William Blake’s engraving of Laocoon and his sons is what art historians call “busy.”
OK, I doubt art historians call it that. Doing what journalists call “checking” — consulting the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism — I see the preferred term seems to be “cluttered.”
So, cluttered, then. Whatever you call it, there’s a lot to unpack. Not just the unlucky Trojan priest, who tried to warn his citymates not to take that large wooden horse into the walls of Troy, and was rewarded by being crushed, along with his sons, by a sea serpent sent by Athena.
But all that writing, in several languages. A wordy fellow, Blake. Which I guess makes us soulmates. I do go on.
Though today, I’m only interested in a single line, written perpendicularly in the right margin: “Is not every Vice possible to Man described in the Bible openly?”
The only honest answer must be a resounding “Yes!” Murder, for starters (Cain). Incest (Lot). Drunkenness (Noah). Selling your brother into slavery (Jacob). Debauchery, cheating, stealing, war. Onan spills his seed. God tortures Job as a lark.
The whole book is practically one long grindhouse movie. Yet do school boards ban the Bible? Never. Why is that? Maybe because such bans are never about the pretexts supposedly inspiring them.
Earlier this year, when Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel about the Holocaust, ”Maus,” was yanked from an 8th grade reading list in Tennessee, school board members cited “nudity.” How does anyone consider nudity in drawings of cartoon mice? With a straight face, I mean. That’s like complaining that Disney’s Winnie the Pooh isn’t wearing pants. Maybe that’s next.
Hushing up the Holocaust is actually relatively rare. School libraries across the country are mostly yanking books that suggest some people are gay or transgender which, spoiler alert, they are. These adults seem afraid that heterosexuality is such a lightly-held fancy that any second grader who reads a book about a penguin with two dads might be lured off the path.
Earlier this week Trump wannabe and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed his “Don’t Say Gay” law forbidding public school teachers from discussing gender identity with students 2nd grade and younger. The age is essential to the scam, the law intended to skate by on the youth of the students targeted, playing on subconscious Victorian notions that sexuality is a gift received on your wedding night, and ignoring the law’s pure bigotry.
It’s as if Illinois passed a law forbidding pedestrians from saying “Hello” to any Catholic infant they pass, it would be a mistake to then fall to debating whether strangers should address unfamiliar children and if so at what age. The crux would be that the law ostracizes a particular group for no valid reason; the age is immaterial.
That isn’t how confident people behave. My boys were born in East Lakeview, an area sometimes known as Boystown. While I wasn’t thrilled about the kind of magazines in plain sight on newsstands their stroller was being wheeled past, they didn’t seem to notice, and I didn’t make a stink. Sexual orientation is ordained by nature — by God, if you prefer. It isn’t something you catch from reading.
I comfort myself with this: The cringing haters have lost. That’s why they’re doing this. To gin up votes among the similarly terrified; broken bullies all, in a desperate mass junkie scramble, looking for find someone they’re allowed to kick.
Sad. The mainstreaming of oppressed races, religions and genders is one of the great moral triumphs of the past century. A shame the supposedly religious didn’t get the memo. A shame Blake isn’t around to capture their confusion.
His painting “Pity” will have to do. It’s inspired by Macbeth, contemplating the murder of Duncan: ”And pity, like a naked newborn babe/Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim, horsed upon the sightless couriers of the air/Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye.”
Say what you will about social media, it does a great job of blowing horrid deeds into our eyes. From Putin’s butchery to every fearful bleat and cringe of every backwater school board. It might sting, might cause us to blink at times — all the time, it can seem. But at least we know.