War: September 2009 Archives

Jason Hanasik Steven Two-Faced 2007 digital C-print

Jason Hanasik Steven's self-portrait #2 2008 digital C-print

Jason Hanasik Steven's photograph of a man carrying two bottles of piss 2008 digital C-print

Jason Hanasik Patrick (Welcome) 2005 digital C-print

Jason Hanasik Steven (turn) 2008 digital C-print

I think it's about the fact that guys often have trouble functioning as full human beings, but sometimes they're offered an opportunity and they grab it; and then sometimes they lose it. I'd say this is true of both hets and homos.

The artist himself describes his project as


. . a photography, video, and installation project which engages image making as a platform to intervene inside Western culture's traditions and expectations as they relate to masculinity, sexuality, and class.

We, the men of these images and me, might not sit at an equal distance from the center, but we all have a complicated relationship to what is considered normal -- to our benefit and our destruction.

Jason Hanasik's show at +Kris Graves in DUMBO, with the (not quite) enigmatic title, "He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore", is an extremely moving exercise in storytelling with photographs, mostly the artist's own and some (not quite) "found".

Nine images are hung along one wall of the gallery and two more hang on a section of another wall to the left, with a final object, a hand-written letter reproduced as an inkjet print, at the near edge of a third wall on the right. Most of the photographs are dominated by the figure of a young male; some of the subjects appear several times. They are all marines.

Partly because the size of the prints varies and because they are each mounted at a different height, they appear to dance in front of the visitor, but without a real beginning - or an end; this is not going to be a simple narrative.

The images in the photographs bounce around in time and in space, and touch many emotions as they do so, as does their "story" itself; it's a story which could be written in many ways, and we can each find our own. Hanasik's materials provide a documentation of some intense, probably under-expressed, male friendships. They remind us of the difficulty we all have in characterizing the more heartfelt qualities of these friendships, whether we are parties to them or only observers.

The men photographed by the artist are brothers. Jason Hanasik grew up in Virginia knowing both Steven and Patrick, but he became a very close friend of Patrick, the older (his BFF, in fact). Jason and Patrick played football together in High School. Jason at first hardly knew Steven, who had his own best friend. His name was Josh, and he does not appear in these images. Their relationships, especially that of Jason and Patrick, were made more complicated as they grew older and each of them gradually became aware of Jason's homosexuality (including Jason himself), but Jason and Patrick's friendship survived, survived even the nightmares of Iraq, from which Patrick described this affectionate daydream in a letter to Jason:

Jason Hanasik 11Mar04 2009 inkjet print 10" x 8"

Jason was the only one of the four who did not join the marines and so was the only one who did not go to Iraq, where Steven was a part of a tragedy (the death in combat of his friend Josh on what had been the first "tour" for both of them) he was unable to share with his comrades. Then, on the first leg of an impulsive road trip with Steven something happened that changed Jason's relationship to his best friend's more taciturn sibling.

The title of the gallery exhibition refers to the catharsis Steven experienced while Jason and he were driving from Virginia to visit Patrick and his wife in upstate New York, Steven opened up, and it made possible a real friendship between the two for the first time. Like that shared by Jason and Patrick its emotional intimacy didn't fit the simple antithetical forms we're told are the only ones we can expect from male relationships.

Three of the photographs in the show were taken by the straight-identifying Steven while he was in Iraq. The two that are not self-portraits, in particular, are witness of just how inscrutable male emotions, and male sexuality, still remain to the understanding of all of us, male or female, straight or queer.

The installation also includes a video taken with a pocket camera or cellphone. It appears on the gallery wall as a smallish, faint, projected image, a short loop, and it shows two beautiful, smiling young marines dancing a tango, complete with dips, on the balcony of a barracks courtyard inside Baghdad. There is no sound.


Jason Hanasik In the Green Zone: November 2007 digital video 2008 [two stills]

The video too is by Steven.

I remember, but only as someone who was able to watch from a safe distance, the horror of Vietnam, and what it did to the men and women of my generation: And the silence; all kinds of silence. It's excruciating to see it happening all over again.

After only a few minutes inside the gallery last week, I was already almost in tears, and at the time I had even less information than I am able to share in this post. Barry and I were fortunate to be able to hear more about the work in two conversations with the artist himself. Although at first I was somewhat reluctant to ask about the context of the project, Hanasik was generous in his replies.

I found that the images stand up either with or without much of a "background". Having seen them on line before talking to Hanasik and before we visited the gallery I know they can pretty much speak for themselves. That's why I had to get to the gallery: I wanted to hear them up close.

ADDENDUM: There is now a loop of the video, "In the Green Zone: November 2007" imbedded on the artist's site here.

[images provided by the artist]


Roy Lichtenstein Hopeless 1963

Obama is a disaster, and I say that because his failure may mean that the kind of reform which could have saved America may never be possible again.

His time appears to have run out (I'm not sure he would be interested in doing anything with it even if he were given an extension). He has utterly failed to do what he said he would do, what his supporters voted for him to do. His election, following the disastrous failure of his predecessor, and coinciding with that of a Democratic House and Senate, created an extraordinary momentum and an extremely rare political opportunity for advancing a progressive agenda. It was an environment, a moment, which we're unlikely ever to see again. In the six months since we've witnessed the shocking success of the scurvy machinations devised by a radical Right which had been reported displaced and in serious disarray. They've given us an indication of what to expect going forward.

Our politics are a complete fraud: Any principled engagement in politics has become an absolutely futile exercise and this will remain the case unless we are able to take the system out of the hands of the plutocrats and the corporations that own it. I see no possibility of that happening.

If such a possibility were moral, or even real, I would be tempted to adopt a status of "inner emigration"*. I can say at least that I no longer argue with any American who says they don't vote; a decision not to go through the motions which might help legitimize a fake democracy appears to be pretty reasonable in the circumstances of the present.

Although I had started to worry about the future of Obama's "change" myth as early as late last November (see this entry), I held off publishing a more definitive list of complaints until now, finally deciding to pull it out of the "drawer" where I keep my drafts, because I just couldn't stand looking at the subject line any longer.

In a post written only days after the election I expressed my reservations about whether Obama would be able to pull off the revolution that it would take to undue the damage which Bush administration had done, but I concluded that I believed he really would pull it off.

I was wrong. While I could turn out to be wrong again and would welcome it, today I feel certain that he won't be able to pull off any reform and, looking at what David Sirota has called his Team of Corporate Zombies and checking off the list of the things he has done and the things he has not done, I have some real doubts about whether he ever intended to.**

For months I've been talking to friends about my despair over Obama's administration, challenging anyone to point to anything which it has actually accomplished. At first most people seemed shocked by my criticism, but if they gave me any argument it would usually only be a comment about something Obama has said he would do. I've not been registering any shocked responses in recent weeks, and I'm hearing no arguments, so while this post's downbeat argument might have really stood out earlier, maybe its novelty has been overtaken by events.

But I still think it's worth taking stock of what we have lost, so here's a partial list:

1. The Patriot Act remains almost intact
2. "State secrets" remain state secrets, and the administration argues that the privilege is rooted in the Constitution
3. The prisoners in Guantanamo, even if it the concentration camp is decommissioned, will remain prisoners; they and anyone our government rounds up in the future can be "detained" indefinitely, without charge or trial
3. The administration refuses to release prisoner abuse photos from years ago
4. The policy of rendition will continue
5. We now have an accelerated war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and our troops remain in Iraq
6. The administration shows no interest in addressing ENDA
7. Obama's Justice Department has argued that the state has an interest in defending marriage as meaning a contract between a man and a woman
8. The administration shows no interest in addressing "don't-ask-don't-tell" (service people are still being discharged for being gay)
9. Addressing climate change appears to be a low priority (and coal is still being extracted through mountain-top removal)
10. Universal health care is off the table, opening the way for even more complicated for-profit systems which won't even address rising costs
11. Recognition of needle exchange programs is going nowhere
12. Financial regulatory reform, where it is alive, has been put in the hands of Wall Street insiders
13. The measures used to address the economic meltdown and bank failures, the stimulus and the bailout, were designed by and for the individuals and banks who were responsible for the Great Recession in the first place, and have neglected foreclosures, loss of home equity value, and unemployment (and underemployment)
14. No back-to-work program which might be aimed at greening American technology
15. Continued neglect of the infrastructure
16. Continued neglect of meaningful public transit programs
17. The ill-conceived and obscenely wasteful "Clunkers" program and the distraction from real, constructive change which it presented
18. Failure to reinstate the ban on assault weapons
19. "Flexibility" on the call for a halt to the illegal Israeli settlements on the Left Bank
20. Maintaining Bush-era procedures allowing the government to search (without suspicion of wrongdoing) traveler's laptops, cellphones, or other electronic devices
21. Obama's vaunted "Transparency" has become a joke
22. Maintaining the FISA spying-on-citizens protocols
23. Extending a free pass to Bush, Cheney and Rice for their clear violations of the Geneva Conventions
24. Expanding both the scope and power of the "faith-based" initiatives introduced by the Bush White House [added to the list Sept. 8]

ADDENDA (post-publication):

25 And now (revealed September 15) asking Congress to in fact extend three key provisions of the Patriot Act, which would otherwise expire at the end of the year
26. Unlike the last four presidents, Obama has not replaced the prior administration's district attorneys wholesale, but has instead left in place "the majority of the Bush administration DA's who had survived Rove's purges intended to make sure they were loyal Republican apparatchiks" [quoted from Ian Welsh], an alarming realization for anyone whose politics are to the Left of Attila the Hun
27. [the words of Ian Welsh once again:] "Obama has not cleaned out the administration in general of Bush-era appointees and plants; indeed he has filled less spots than either Clinton or Bush II had by this point in their terms--and no, it's not because the Senate won't confirm them."
28. The despicable private army formerly known as Blackwater remains in Iraq today, and the Obama administration recently extended the company's contract there indefinitely; the firm, whose owner has styled himself a Christian crusader, also has contracts in Aghanistan
29. Once again employing the argument of "National security", the administration is trying to weaken the "media shield" bill, designed to protect reporters against being forced to testify, which is currently working its way through Congress

One wonders just what have they been doing since moving into the White House, besides worrying about how not to offend their political enemies. Did everyone else notice that Van Jones, the man Obama threw to the dogs late Saturday night (an interesting news-hour calculation for the announcement), was one of the only genuine progressives in the White House, a real community organizer (like POTUS, before he got religion) and not a political hack like everyone else, including, I now believe, the boss?

Innere Emigration describes the the choice of some intellectuals, certain artists and writers, to remain in Germany (and, after the 1938 Anschluss, in Austria) during the era of National Socialism, although they were in opposition to the Nazi regime. It assumed a complete withdrawal from public life.

I notice that last November I included a footnote saying that in the end his race had proved to be no barrier to Obama's achievement of the White House; today, if I weren't in despair of Obama's competence or even his commitment, I could easily add a footnote about the fact that from the beginning race has however proven to be behind his opponents' mindless campaigns against every policy he has proposed: It's almost all about that uppity negro.

[image of Lichtenstein's "Hopelesss" from theheretik]

Dennis Klingensmith of Prospect Hill Cemetery in York, Pa., prepares to haul away a beam that will become part of a memorial. Recipients of the wreckage pay for transporting it. - NYTimes caption

Ludicrous or baleful? The Port Authority is giving away WTC junk (in both senses) more or less in our name.

As the anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, approaches on Friday, pieces of the World Trade Center rubble from that day have never been more accessible. A new campaign is under way to speed up the process and increase the volume of giving away pieces of steel big and small from the debris.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the steel, will invite police and fire departments and mayors and other leaders of cities and towns throughout the country to ask for pieces for memorials.

When I looked at the article on the front page of the NYTimes this morning my first response was, "this is still going on? I'd thought we were over that, especially considering how well our response to 9/11 had gone." I turned to Barry and said, "we're going to have jingoistic shrines made of crushed ambulances and twisted steel columns in every town in the country - in perpetuity", and he added, "to remind us that Saddam Hussein will not get away with it, and that the fight for cheap oil will never end".

[image by Michael Nagle from The New York Times]

This page is an archive of entries in the War category from September 2009.

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