Archive for Political Art
This week I visited the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa for the first time since my visit right after it opened in August 2002. This museum has its quirks and amusements, and the staff and docents there are very nice, but my opinion about the exhibits hasn’t changed. The museum still falls short of its potential.
I vaguely remembered that in 2002 I had returned from the museum a little frustrated and felt inspired that evening to write a review. I had meant to submit it to one of the San Francisco Bay Area newspapers, but I never returned to it after writing the first draft.
I still have it 11 years later, and now I post it here. Some of the exhibits have changed, and there seems to be a bit more 1960s material on display now, but most of the shortcomings outlined in my 2002 review remain in 2013. Also, note that admission is now $10 for adults.
Charles M. Schulz Museum Could Be More Than a Lightweight (August 2002)
Even cartoonists can now aspire to their own museums if they follow the right formula. Draw a comic strip for 50 years and make it popular among international audiences of all ages. Extensively license the characters for commercial purposes. Place the comic strip on a higher intellectual plane than Garfield, while still making the strip accessible to readers who prefer light humor on their comic pages.
Charles M. Schulz provided a model for cartoonist immortality with his Peanuts comic strip and animated Charlie Brown cartoons. In August, the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center opened in Santa Rosa, California, where Schulz – a Minnesota native – lived during most of the time that he drew the Peanuts comic strip. The museum serves as a tribute to Schulz and focuses on the universal appeal of his creation.
As part of the tribute, the ground floor features other artists’ comic strips saluting Schulz after his death in February 2000. A strange sort of humor results from the incongruity of Peanuts characters inserted in melodramas with realistically drawn figures. There is also art inspired by Peanuts with text explaining how impressive it is.
Also displayed on the ground floor are enlarged classic Peanuts strips and cartoon layouts that draw smiles and snickers from visitors. Women in particular seem to enjoy the strips that show Charlie Brown’s hapless dreams of winning the “Little Red-Haired Girl.” To emphasize the international nature of the Peanuts phenomenon, a display shows Peanuts books translated in more than a dozen languages.
Visitors looking for more substance from the exhibits are likely to be disappointed and even somewhat bored. Granted, a cartoonist may not be as compelling a subject as a President of the United States, but the museum fails to exploit the potential of encouraging critical thinking about Schulz and exploring the cultural context of Peanuts. One gets the impression that the museum is careful not to examine anything too deeply, lest someone have a negative thought about Schulz or his comic strip.
Although the museum dedicates much of the upper floor to a perfunctory review of events in Schulz’s life, as well as a display of the study where Schulz worked, it reveals little about how Schulz reflected his life and opinions in Peanuts. For example, the museum shows Peanuts strips depicting a fire that burned down Snoopy’s doghouse, but the museum doesn’t say if drawing these strips helped Schulz to cope with the fire that destroyed his own house. Sharp observers will notice the collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald stories in the study and a reference to The Great Gatsby in one of the comics on display, but visitors must connect them without the museum’s help. And must classical music fans believe that Schulz had his piano-playing character Schroeder play Beethoven because words that start with “B” are funny, as a quotation on the wall suggests? One suspects Schulz appreciated serious music.
Based on the content of Peanuts over 50 years, Schulz seems to be a traditionalist: proud of his military service, thoughtful about his Christian faith, suspicious of rampant commercialism, and appreciative of the simple values of small town America. The museum only provides a superficial treatment of these character traits. Visitors learn that Schulz drew a few sketches while serving in World War II, but the museum reveals nothing about what Schulz saw in wartime or how it affected him, except that Schulz admired General Eisenhower. Schulz’s books on Bible interpretation are on display in his study, but the museum does not discuss his religious beliefs or their reflection in his strips. The museum does not explain how Schulz reconciled his apparent distaste for merchandise licensing with the licensing that made him rich.
At least twice, Schulz was intertwined in racial issues – not surprising considering the dramatic changes in American race relations from 1950 to 2000. In the late 1960s, Schulz introduced a black character, Franklin, into the strip and eliminated a few stale characters. Curious visitors will leave wondering about this development: did outside special interest groups pressure Schulz to add a black character, or was adding the character his own choice, perhaps even against the advice of United Feature Syndicate? Is there any surviving correspondence from newspapers and readers responding to Schulz’s introduction of a black character?
Schulz was drawn into racial politics again in 1999, when the musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” was revived on Broadway with the director casting the character Schroeder as black and the character Linus as Asian. Schulz was cautious with his criticism, telling the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat about his initial suspicion that the director’s intent was to “come in and show me how wonderfully open-minded and liberal you are.” Despite acquiescing in the end, Schulz was probably fuming about losing control of the images of his characters. This would be an interesting controversy for the museum to explore, but by introducing complicated issues such as artistic license, political correctness, and American attitudes towards race, the museum might offend someone. Better to be bland.
It’s disappointing that the museum generally ignores the influential comic strips Schulz produced in the 1960s, when he transcended traditional comic strip humor by having his characters expound on contemporary pop philosophy and psychology. This more mature content allowed Peanuts to become fashionable among college students and the elite media, and it paved the way for the intellectual ambitions of other comic strips, such as Doonesbury, Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, and Bloom County.
Additionally disappointing, the museum says nothing about the meaning of relatively obscure but intriguing characters who briefly appeared in the strip. For example, Schulz introduced a character named “5” with his siblings “3” and “4” in a family that adopted its zip code as its last name. The episode is reminiscent of Soviet parents naming their children after Sputnik to celebrate their country’s technological advancement. Perhaps Schultz’s story line was simply a bit of silliness to encourage children’s laughter, but it could also shed light on Schulz’s views about the relationship between governments and individualism.
Even many of the cult aspects of Peanuts aren’t addressed. For example, the “wah-wah” voices of adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons are classic, yet visitors leave ignorant about why adults did not articulate actual words in these cartoons, nor why adults reverted to normal speech in the last few cartoons. And is it truth or legend that the name of the character Woodstock was inspired by the 1969 Woodstock Music and Arts Festival?
There are other problems with the museum beyond content. Display cases containing comic strips are too high for small children to read. Nothing indicates what cartoons are being shown in the video room. A display about the Peanuts relationship with NASA may have excited people 30 years ago, but it is definitely boring in 2002. And certainly the museum should pipe in Vince Guaraldi’s jazz music from the Charlie Brown cartoons.
While technically not part of the museum, the gift shop contains interesting displays of historical Peanuts merchandise and a fine collection of Snoopy dolls for sale. The museum should consider highlighting rather than downplaying this aspect of the Peanuts legacy, because it surely brings back pleasant childhood memories for many visitors.
For the $8 price of adult admission, the Charles M. Schulz Museum provides appreciation for Schulz’s accomplishments and recognition of his humor. But to be meaningful for eternity, the museum needs to reveal more about Schulz and his comic strip’s place in history.
A ‘Peanuts’ Gang Clubhouse – Los Angeles Times – August 13, 2002
Schulz Museum Drawing Fans the World Over – San Francisco Chronicle – August 17, 2002
‘Peanuts’ Museum Turns Five – Orange County Register (originally in Sacramento Bee) – August 13, 2007
‘Peanuts’ Lives: Eight Years after Opening, Santa Rosa’s Schulz Museum Hits Its Stride – Santa Rosa Press-Democrat – December 9, 2010
Schulz Museum to Celebrate 10th Birthday – San Francisco Chronicle – August 8, 2012
Sidestep Dilemmas of Federal Copyright Law: You May Copy and Alter (Subject to Limitations Under Federal Law) This Photo of the Closest Chick-fil-A to San Francisco (in Fairfield) – the Copyright on This Image Is Waived
Apparently a lot of Americans want to enhance their social media commentary this week with a photo of the only operating Chick-fil-A in the San Francisco Bay Area, as posted on the Dayton Public Policy Institute blog article entitled “Prediction: Chick-fil-A Will Soon Become Acquainted with How the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Is Wielded for Purposes Unrelated to Environmental Protection.”
This brings up the thorny issue of intellectual property rights: what web images fall within the so-called “public domain” and what images fall under the rationale of the “Fair Use Doctrine?” Most adult Americans have a vague idea that copying images posted on the web and reposting them elsewhere may violate copyright laws under certain circumstances.
Below is an image of the Chick-fil-A closest to San Francisco (40 miles away, in Fairfield) that you can use without violating federal copyright law, overseen by the United States Copyright Office, a division of the Library of Congress.
Title 17, Section 201 of the United States Code states that “copyright in a work protected under this title vests initially in the author or authors of the work.” As the author of this image, I waive my copyright and give permission for you to use it, restricted to the conditions of Title 17, Section 106A of the United States Code that allow the author to prevent the use of his or her name as the author of the work of visual art in the event of a distortion, mutilation, or other modification of the work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation. I recognize my waiver on this blog does not include my signature on a written instrument granting the waiver, but it can be assumed.
Fair Use Exemption: Note that Title 17, Section 107 of the United States Code states that “the fair use of a copyrighted work” for “purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.” So you may not necessarily need my waiver to use this photo anyway.
If you’re really concerned about all of the legal permutations of using this photo, please contact a qualified attorney who specializes in intellectual property law.
Prediction: Chick-fil-A Will Soon Become Acquainted with How the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Is Wielded for Purposes Unrelated to Environmental Protection
As someone who has spent 15 years tracking and exposing how labor unions exploit the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to block proposed projects in pursuit of objectives unrelated to environmental protection, I predict Chick-fil-A is about to join Wal-Mart and large solar power plant developers as a favorite California target of “greenmail,” or environmental permit extortion.
Based on the latest developments outlined below, one can conclude that the days are over of city planning staff in California quietly granting routine zoning variances for Chick-fil-A. Soon the company will be dealing with lawsuits demanding lengthy and costly Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs), and after those reports are completed and the projects are approved, then there will be more lawsuits challenging the adequacy of the reports and the steps for environmental mitigation.
Obvious weak points for Chick-fil-A are traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles idling in drive-through lines. In-N-Out Burger has dealt with these issues in recent years (recent examples being neighborhood resistance in Studio City, Santa Rosa, Pleasant Hill, and Seaside), but Chick-fil-A will surely provide ripe new opportunities for environmental law firms to test their theories and hone their skills in blocking proposed fast food restaurants.
Chick-fil-A and Wal-Mart: Two Southern-Based Corporations Destined to Face Resistance in California
The Chick-fil-A venture into California is similar to the experience of Wal-Mart as it expanded out of the South and began moving into the very different political, religious, and socio-economic culture of the major metropolitan areas of California and the Northeast. Wal-Mart entered California quietly in the 1990s, but as it began operating in the cities and seeking approval for “Supercenters” that sell groceries, it started to get hammered by a broad coalition of unions, environmental groups, academics, and activists who represented innumerable “progressive” interests. Underlying these interests were subtle class connotations: California’s elite recoiled from the values, priorities, and business practices of the South.
In the mid-2000s, Wal-Mart frequently dealt with environmental objections backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. For example, William D. Kopper, an attorney based in Davis, took various actions to block approval of Wal-Marts in several California cities, including in Oroville, Stockton, Galt, Santa Rosa, Redding, Ukiah, and Gilroy. (Kopper also did the same kind of work for construction unions seeking Project Labor Agreements from developers.) The UFCW found local allies among a variety of community groups and local activists determined to keep Wal-Mart out of their town.
Now Chick-fil-A has moved into the same regions and invited the same responses. Like Wal-Mart, it moved in quietly, opening its first Southern California locations (eight of them) in 2004 and its first Northern California location in Roseville (a suburb of Sacramento) in October 2005. Since then outlets have been popping up throughout the state. It is finally daring to move into the San Francisco Bay Area, and people are taking notice.
Chick-fil-A in the San Francisco Bay Area – It’s Going to Be a Tough Road Ahead
The Mayor of San Francisco – Ed Lee – received national news media attention last week for jumping on the Chick-fil-A commentary bandwagon with his back-to-back Tweets on July 26:
#ChickFilA doesn’t share San Francisco’s values & strong commitment to equality for everyone.
#ChickFilA to San Francisco is 40 miles away & I strongly recommend that they not try to come any closer.
This Chick-fil-A location 40 miles from San Francisco and referenced by Mayor Lee is the corporation’s current equivalent of Fort Ross, the southernmost frontier post of the Russian Empire in Alta California. Fort Ross was founded in 1812 as Russia penetrated deep into Spanish-claimed territory in what is now Sonoma County.
You can visit Fort Ross today (it’s a state park), and you can also visit the only operating San Francisco Bay Area Chick-fil-A in Fairfield, just off I-80 at the Travis Boulevard exit next to the Westfield Solano Mall.
According to the Chick-fil-A web site, an establishment will open in San Jose on August 16. There will be protests. Another one will open in Walnut Creek on September 20, and a protest is already being planned.
There is likely to be disruption if the planned Chick-fil-A ever opens in Santa Rosa, according to an article in the July 25 Santa Rosa Press-Democrat newspaper. That proposed restaurant had already generated controversy: the Santa Rosa City Council had voted 5-2 at its May 22 meeting to grant approval to build the Chick-fil-A at the site of a vacant Burger King after the Santa Rosa Planning Commission had rejected it on a 3-3-1 vote at its April 12 meeting. Opponents cited the greenhouse gas emissions of vehicles in the planned drive-through lane and general objections to fast food. (See the city staff report here.)
One Santa Rosa City Council member who voted against the Chick-fil-A was Susan Gorin, who is in a highly-competitive race for a seat on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. I’m guessing she’ll be trying to ride this high-profile issue to victory in November.
Note that the Chick-fil-A planned for Santa Rosa “is also proposing to incorporate Public Art in Private Development and is currently working with the City parks department to find an artist.” This may become another interesting angle: who will be the artist, and will a subversive message be expressed through the public art?
Meanwhile, in Mountain View (a suburb of San Jose), two citizens raised $1000 to challenge a “routine zoning variance” from city staff to allow a Chick-fil-A to build an outlet there. This article from the July 20 San Jose Mercury-News indicates that they intend to use traffic-related concerns to stop it:
“We need to make our city better – more sidewalk and bicycle friendly – not worse by increasing the number of cars driving up and over our sidewalks to speed in and get fast food,” the appeal states. “The convenience of drive-thru junk food is not worth the increased danger the traffic poses to our citizens.”
This campaign in Mountain View has a fundraising site and is reportedly receiving support from former city councilmember and State Senate candidate Sally Lieber, who is best known for introducing a bill to ban (child) spanking when she was in the California State Assembly. Lieber has a highly competitive race against another Democrat for this seat.
Chick-fil-A in Southern California: Potential for Trouble There, Too
A Chick-fil-A operating in West Hollywood was profiled in this article in the Los Angeles Times on July 28. Meanwhile, a Chick-fil-A opened in Laguna Hills (in Orange County) on July 26 and experienced an opening day protest, as reported here in the Los Angeles Times and here in the Orange County Register.
According to the Chick-fil-A web site, Chick-fil-A outlets will open in Westlake Village (in Los Angeles County) on August 30, Buena Park (in Orange County) on September 13, and Encinitas (in San Diego County) on September 20.
An Unexpected Opportunity for the Public to Learn About Misuse of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
One of the frustrations of trying to educate the public about CEQA abuse by labor unions is that many reporters completely miss how the fundamental issue at play has nothing to do with environmental concerns. They take the comments, data requests, and lawsuits at face value.
Of course, the legal arguments on the surface are simply a public charade, while the real underlying issue (pressuring the developer to sign a union agreement or trying to block non-union competition) stays hidden from the public. With the upcoming environmental objections to Chick-fil-A, the underlying issue will never be mentioned in the legal documents, but the objective will be apparent and understood by all observers.
Fox News Channel, Drudge Report, and other Right-leaning sources are reporting on photos taken at the White House on June 15 of official guests making an obscene gesture in front of a portrait of President Ronald Reagan.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects Americans from government abridgement of freedom of speech, and people can make this type of gesture at the White House as a political statement without being arrested or punished by the government. (If the Soviet Union had ended up “winning” the Cold War, I doubt such freedoms would be so casually exercised.) Nevertheless, it was bad manners and made the beleaguered Obama Administration look foolish yet again. According to a report today from Fox News Channel, the White House issued a statement on June 22 acknowledging that this was disrespectful behavior.
This incident reminded me of a incident concerning the official portrait of Ronald Reagan at the California State Capitol. His portrait is there because he was Governor of California from 1967-1975. He defeated an incumbent governor – Jerry Brown’s father Pat Brown – in the 1966 election, and then Jerry Brown won the office in the 1974 election after Reagan chose not to run again. (Jerry Brown was Governor of California for two terms from 1975 to 1983 and then was reelected again as Governor in 2010.)
On March 5, 1986, someone slashed the Reagan portrait in the California State Capitol from the nose to the beltline. The painting was restored, but a transparent protective casing was put over it.
No other portrait needs special protection; I found an ancient 2004 post on a now-inactive California blog commenting about this (with some foul language): One Difference Between Us and Them.
More recent attacks on Reagan likenesses have been more ambiguous in motive. As reported by the Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot newspaper, one month after a bronze Ronald Reagan statue was installed in October 2011 in Newport Beach, California, an unknown culprit wrapped a chain or rope around it and tried to pull it away with a pickup truck. Perhaps the intent was ideological, but that $60,000 statue also made a tempting target for metal thieves. It was repaired, and now a city surveillance camera is operating at the site. In August 2011, a bronze bust of President Reagan was stolen from the Chapman University campus in Orange, California. Once again, metal theft was a suspected reason.
(New Incident added September 20, 2013: Temecula: Reagan Statue Damaged in Apparent Arson Fire – Riverside Press-Enterprise – September 20, 2013)
Assembly Bill 2358 is moving in the California State Legislature to authorize the installation of a privately-funded statue of Ronald Reagan in the State Capitol Building Annex. If this bill passes the legislature and is signed by Reagan’s successor Jerry Brown, the statue may become another tempting target for political activists to make a statement. (It would take some guts for metal thieves to try to steal it from the well-guarded capitol building, but more foolish things have been done there.)