Thursday, March 15, 2012

John Wilkes Booth Bobblehead? Really?

Much like our favorite local newspaper editor frequently does, we are going to take an opportunity here to discuss the First Amendment to the Constitution. Said amendment is stated thusly:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Much ado has been stirred lately over the inclusion, however brief, of a John Wilkes Booth Bobblehead Doll at the Visitors Center Bookstore on the Battlefield. The immediate hue and cry that went up when the news hit the papers of the inclusion of this doll in the stock of the Book Store/Gift Shop run by the Gettysburg Foundation, apparently hit home and the doll was quickly removed. And today, in the 14th of March, 2012 edition of the Hanover Evening Sun, a front page, above the fold article was published wherein the artist who ‘sculpted’ the bobblehead of Booth defended his artwork. [Sculptor defends controversial bobbleheads, Hanover Evening Sun, March 14, 2012].

Cited in the article was Harold Holzer, a leading Lincoln historian who said,

Harold Holzer, perhaps the most prominent Lincoln scholar alive, said the Gettysburg National Military Park is not the appropriate place for bobbleheads of John Wilkes Booth.

"There's a line between freedom of expression and insensitivity and boorishness," he said, in an email. "I hold no belief for censorship, but I do believe in common sense, respect, and good taste. And these souvenirs featured none of the above."

Indeed, common sense, respect, and good taste. The artist, Rick Lynn, has every right to turn out bobbleheads, and call them art. It falls under the umbrella of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as shown above. Mr. Lynn can make sand castles on the beach and call them art. He can push his mashed potatoes around on his plate and call them art, and he can take the doodle sheet he filled while on hold for tech support the last time he had a problem with his cable TV, and he can call it art. And we would agree with all of it. It is protected free speech under the Constitution, and we have no quibble with it.

No, our quibble is with the rocket scientist who works at the Book Store who approved the placement of the Booth Bobblehead in the store. A Booth Bobblehead is in bad taste, as Mr. Holzer states, and therein lies the rub. “One man’s trash is another man’s art,” you say? No question about it. A New York art exhibition featured a photograph of a crucifix submerged in a clear container of the ‘artist’s’ urine. He has a First Amendment right to call that art…and we have a first amendment right to say it is artless, feckless, and in extremely poor taste, to say nothing of the insult to Christianity.

Putting an armed John Wilkes Booth bobblehead next to one of Abraham Lincoln simply defies belief. Mr. Lynn may call it art, but that certainly does not make it so, no matter how well-crafted the doll is. To add it to the store in Gettysburg, yards from where Lincoln came and gave his [arguably] most famous speech in dedicating the National Cemetery is just thoughtless, and we mean that literally.

Look, we think there are lines that good people do not cross. We think they are lines dividing what it in good taste and what is not. If the public wants to put movie stars and sports heroes on their dashboard as bobbleheads, feel free, but historical figures are out of bounds.

Holzer added that it would be disrespectful to sell dolls of Lee Harvey Oswald at the John F. Kennedy Center. [Evening Sun]

Agreed. It trivializes, and detracts from the memory of those we hold in highest esteem. Lincoln certainly is one of the most treasured of our Presidents.

John Wilkes Booth didn’t just murder a President, he is likely a major part of the reason why there still exists a divide in this country between those of color and those who are white. Lincoln’s plan for the “Reconstruction” of the country after the end of the Civil War was to be one of gentle, kind, treatment for the defeated South, along with a firm policy of guiding the acceptance by the nation for the transition from slavery to freedom of almost 4 million African American slaves. When Booth murdered Lincoln, that policy went pretty much out the window, and the new President, Andrew Johnson, proceeded to deviate from it over the next three years, to the point that what occurred was not a reconstruction, but an occupation, and the angst and suffering of that was turned into an anger aimed at the Black Freedmen that lingered for a century…perhaps longer. Booth’s act made life for the white South tougher for many years, and has played Hell with the civil rights of America’s Black population.

Memorializing Booth is asinine. His act helped no one. It harmed everyone.

A bobblehead? A John Wilkes Booth bobblehead? With a gun in his hand? Really? Next to Lincoln? Really?

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