Labeltastic!

So there’s this very contentious mural in Philly right now. It’s not controversial in any of the fun ways that art tends to be controversial– just some boring business about permits and historical district lines.

So I was kind of confused when I got to this passage:

Michael Sher has said he commissioned Chhin, a Cambodian emigre, a transsexual and an aspiring artist, to paint the mural in 2001 in part to dissuade graffitists from tagging the building’s north wall on narrow Waverly Street.

I’m confused because I have no idea what the artist’s country of origin or sexuality have to do with the story, which is about the aforementioned boring things like permits and district lines, not sensational things like far eastern emigres (!) and sexual deviance (!)

I guess it’s just better journalism this way.

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12 responses to “Labeltastic!

  1. I definitely don’t think they would have felt the need to say he hired John Smith, a painter from New Jersey who has all his original genitalia and has sex with women, usually in the missionary position.

  2. I dunno. I think this is quite good journalism. Aren’t they trying to give you real reason people object to the mural without actually calling anyone prejudiced?

    On the other hand, the only reason the Inquirer is running this story is so they can get a picture of the Asian trannie in the paper. So it all cancels out.

  3. I’d have to disagree on the first point, Ali.

    If the real reason people are upset is because of the nationality and orientation of the artist, it would be good journalism to say that outright. Objectivity is neither being prejudiced nor hemming and hawing around an issue.

    With that in mind, I’m going to give the Inquirer the benefit of the doubt (whatever slim benefit it may be) and say that, yes, the issues related to the mural are indeed the bland ones stated in the article. However, this in turn indicates that they mention the trannie emigre bit to sell papers, which is super duper lame-o.

    So I agree with you that they’re still bums, though by virtue of a different line of reasoning.

  4. So, you think if the mural looked like this Peirce College would still be complaining about it?

    There’s no way the reporter is going to get any of these people on record saying they want to get rid of the mural because they are prejudiced. These people are sufficiently well-educated to know that that’s not OK to say. But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be an opportunity for a savvy reader to read between the lines.

  5. Check out this piece from Philadelphia Weekly.

    It’s a much better example of bringing up possible reasons for the controversy. Get the artist to acknowledge the possible controversial nature of the content, get the Peirce College guy to balk at the politically incorrect notion that they have a problem with anything but “the permit process,” and let the reader decide for themselves.

    It’s inappropriate for journalists to write coy inferences into their work. You quote other people making not-so-coy inferences or flabbergastedly balking when you ask them an uncomfortable question point blank, and you use those quotes to tell the story.

    On another note, I doubt she’ll suffer from lack of work offers after this…

  6. Now you’re comparing a daily with a weekly. (Your link doesn’t work BTW.)

    The Inquirer has run more than one story on this. I can’t read them all because they’re behind a paywall, but I’d wager there is more detail in the earlier stories. They’re just summarizing the background in this more recent story (the main point of which is to communicate the time and location of the hearing) so that people who don’t read the paper cover to cover every day have an idea of what’s going on.

    Isn’t that how a community-oriented daily newspaper should operate?

  7. The link works now. I suck at code.

    I understand that weekly and daily newspapers address stories in different ways. However, the fact that the Inquirer is a daily and may have addressed this story in more depth in early articles is irrelevant to my point, which is that the way that they offhandedly mention the artist’s orientation and background is irresponsible and inappropriate.

    By dropping that sort of information in without giving it explicit story context, the writer is making a value judgment on the artist’s orientation, whether or not he intends to. If the intent of that line was indeed to summarize the deeper issues underlying the debate, than the author is basically implying that any reader picking up that paper is going to read the words “transsexual emigre” and think, “Well, then, the college certainly couldn’t be happy about that.” Do you see how that’s a dangerous implication?

    All he had to do was add a line after the one I quoted in my first post that read to the effect of, “The artist has publicly speculated that the mural’s content, which reflects her experiences as a transgendered child in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge’s reign, has influenced Pierce College’s decision to contest the mural; representatives from the college strongly deny this claim.”

    That’s all.

  8. I think I must be really naive because it did not occur to me while reading the article that the artist or the content of the mural were the reason for the complaint. It is a historical building. It is illegal to change the facade without a permit, which was not obtained. Even if they thought the mural was ugly that would be reason enough to invoke the permit rule, wouldn’t it? Ali, would you be happy if your neighbor painted something like that on their house and you had to look at it everyday? I’m not saying prejudice does not exist, obviously it does, but this article didn’t strike me that way. It felt like the author was just throwing in the artist’s stats for a ‘spicier’ story which is tacky and as Jess says, irresponsible.

  9. It is all too common for people that own buildings in historic districts to completely disregard the rules and regulations that apply to their homes (just look at the house across the street, home of tkpk’s amazing Technicolor siding…). It’s pretty clear to people that own National Register designated buildings that they can’t just do things to their buildings willy-nilly.

    I’ve been to a lot of boring meetings of historical commissions at which they have hearings about obtaining the permits for such endeavors…they’re really quite reasonable; however, if there is a possible loss of integrity to the historic area no amount of fighting can win that case (although, truly, it’s a beautiful mural and has only added to the character of the neighborhood ).

    Bringing my point back to the discussion at hand, if the paper would like to infer that all controversy is due to the historic issue, they really should explain it. The process is rather detailed, and most murals actually get approved in Philly. This issue could have had so much weight and provided knowledge to the public being formulated in a different manner. It’s also pretty interesting and would be valuable for the public to know, as many communities in Philly are trying to fight the backtracking of the government in support for the artistic community (this is not an adequately sourceable opinion on my end, just what I’ve gathered from conversation).

    I’m mostly just agreeing with others here, but yes, the journalism was incredibly poor and ill thought out.

  10. You don’t understand why that information was included because you are a woman, plain and simple. Some poor guy probably sat by the window and watched that mural get painted and thought, “Damn, i got the yellow fever today. That Asian chick painting that wall over there is hot.” Then when he finds out later that (s)he is/was a dude, his homophobia will come out and he will be filled with regret and confusion. There is no greater sin against God and country than being gay, ask the president. It was merely young Joseph A. Slobodzian’s duty as a man, not as a reporter, to inform other men of this information. It’s guy code.

  11. I, being a trannie, lost interest at some point. We don’t follow these type of threads easily.
    I think my faux vagina has more to do with people being offended than being from Cambodia. Most people in America have no idea where Cambodia is or why we are supposed to be mad at it. Everyone knows why we’re mad at trannies. Well not me, but I am a drunken tranny, so that double negates my opinion.

    FIERCE!

  12. yet another reason to love Jess.

    I can’t wait to be Elitist with you again! 🙂

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