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  • Writer's pictureTab Berg

Tempest in a Toilet

I'm not an art critic, which qualifies me to comment on the controversy surrounding Stephen S. Pearcy's "art" being displayed -- and now moved to a quiet corner -- in the California Department of Justice.

First, let's get real - this has nothing to do with "art" and everything to do with protest.

It is protest using the same personal-attack technique media elites condemn during every election. Pearcy seems to revel in shocking people. Remember, this is same person who slipped a hangman's noose around a display of a U.S. soldier from his garage. I see nothing "artistic" in hanging a U.S. soldier in effigy or suspending a puerile caricature of the U.S. flag over a toilet. But my artistic - or even my political - evaluation isn't relevant here.

Activists who support Pearcy's anti-Bush views defend the display by twisting the First Amendment with the challenge: "Who is qualified to decide what is art and what it not?" It would be a good question; it's just not relevant in this case. No one is trying to take away Pearcy's crayons. The issue isn't whether this is art, or whether tasteless and hurtful protest has merits. What is relevant is whether the state Department of Justice should be a forum for exhibiting such personal and vitriolic protest.

By displaying the toilet at the DOJ headquarters, Lockyer gave Pearcy's political views the imprimatur of California's chief law enforcement agency. Clearly there is a moral imperative in protecting the right of political protest -- even when it is misguided and offensive.

It's equally clear that this is not thoughtful dissent designed to create meaningful debate or solutions. The "toilet art" is meant to offend. In his protest, Pearcy is more Howard Stern than Publius. The California Department of Justice is not the proper forum for such divisive protest. Not only is it improper, but it creates a precedent for ALL extremists who want to display their views at the DOJ -- or the state Capitol or even the Assembly Speaker's office, for that matter.

Lockyer's spokesperson said "it's promoting healthy discussion, which is constructive."

That was a load of political claptrap. The only thing being promoted is anger, division and resentment -- all of which are destructive and unhealthy. The whole scene smacked of a political ploy. Lockyer, who is looking to run for state treasurer, is desperate to re-establish himself with liberals who are angry over his public acknowledgement that he voted for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now Lockyer sees that the display may have been a miscalculation, so he moved it to gentler, quieter location -- his office.

Offensive protest or just simple political manipulation? You be the judge. Either way, it doesn't belong at the DOJ. California's chief law enforcement agency should neither arbitrate nor advocate sides in such protest -- so the only reasonable answer is either allow anyone to post anything, or refuse to post any protest art. A simple written policy will avoid such conflicts in the future.

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