Yesterday evening, CNN asked me to appear on their morning show, New Day, with co-anchor Chris Cuomo to discuss the above painting of an American flag made by George Zimmerman, who was recently acquitted of murder charges in the death of Trayvon Martin. His painting — an inert posterlike image of a blue American flag with words from the pledge of allegiance set on top — was being auctioned off on eBay (where it was attracting bids over $100,000). The whole thing seemed to be a desecration of Trayvon Martin’s memory.
At 10:30 p.m. last night, I posted on Facebook and Twitter that I would be appearing on CNN the next morning to talk about the painting. As many Americans did, I disagreed with the verdict in the trial and the stand-your-ground law on which it was based. In those posts, I wrote that I intended to “say that murderers should not be allowed to profit from their acts. And more …”
Almost instantaneously, I was attacked by progressives from the art world arguing that I should ignore Zimmerman — since “Silence is a weapon.” Funny, I thought that in the art world people believe that Silence = Death. But hundreds of similar comments followed, like: You should refuse; Don’t do it; Why encourage him with more publicity?; The only thing as repugnant as Zimmerman is that CNN or anyone else would continue to validate his celebrity status by giving him more press; Why would you do it if they weren’t paying you money?; Don’t feed the beast; I can’t believe you would do it; Don’t do it; Saltz is a cockroach bottom-feeder; Please have the strength to say no.
Usually I’d laugh at this kind of rule-making. But instead I had a flash of recognition. This sort of knee-jerk reaction has become familiar to me lately, especially online. More and more in the art world are becoming moralistic, telling artists and critics what they should and shouldn’t write, do, or make art about. Never mind the intellectual hypocrisy of this: Those who violate the clublike code are made out to be wrong, immoral, corrupt. Some progressives are more conservative and self-righteous than those on the right.
This morning I went to CNN and was interviewed about the painting for about five minutes. I think I got to a number of my points, in every case using the term “in my opinion.” I was able to say that in my opinion, George Zimmerman is a murderer, a psychotic, that his was a travesty of justice. But I stalled, repeated myself, and am sorry I wasn’t better. An article following my appearance was partially titled, “Art Critic (Jerry Saltz) Calls George Zimmerman Painting ‘Psychotic,’ Compares Him with Manson and Gacy.” So some points got through. I was home by 8:15 a.m.
Evidentially, the right wing wakes up earlier than the left wing. I checked my e-mails, Twitter, and Facebook, and as I read my messages I grew cold with fear. They were inundated with hate. Sickening glimpses onto the American night.
Here are only some of the messages and tweets sent to me within 25 minutes of the CNN segment.
“Hey asshole, you can’t compare convicted serial killers with a guy who was found not guilty. Please kill yourself.”
“Your agenda is pretty obvious…gay.”
“Fuck you Jew asshole.”
“No Saltz, you’re a *criminal*”
“On Good Day, you were less an art critic than an Al Sharpton wannabe. You embarrassed yourself.”
“You*re piece of shit.”
“Fuck you Saltz.”
“I love the way Saltz thinks he can decide what is art and what isn’t.”
“Zimmerman’s art is “simplistic?” Warhol painted a fucking soup can.”
“Stay in NY Salz with all those other fairies and niggers”
“You call Zimmerman “psychotic.” You’re the psycho asshole.”
If I was caught in this crossfire, I’m glad I was there. And would do it again in an instant. Silence = Death.