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Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Star Simpson -- performance artist?
"An MIT student walks into Logan International Airport wearing a sweatshirt adorned with a plastic circuit board, on which a handful of glowing green lights are harmlessly wired to a 9-volt battery. On the back of the sweatshirt are scrawled 'Socket To Me' and 'COURSE VI.' The student is electrical engineering major Star Anna Simpson, and the outfit, she explains, is an art project meant to attract attention at an MIT career fair."
Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby's description of Simpson's actions last Friday morning is a fair one. As Brainiac readers know, Simpson's truthful (if curt) description of her homemade LED nametag failed to inspire confidence in the airport information-desk employee who'd asked about it; besides, Simpson was squeezing a lump of Play-Doh, and the info-desk staffer thought that was suspicious, too. State troopers were called in, and poor Simpson was arrested at submachine-gunpoint. You might imagine, from reading Jacoby's description of the events that precipitated the arrest, that Simpson was an innocent victim, a naif who accidentally wore the wrong thing to the wrong place.
So why does the rest of Jacoby's op-ed column in today's Boston Globe snarkily describe Simpson's innocent (if naive) actions as a "public display," an "immature stunt," and a "juvenile prank"? Why, in other words, does Simpson stand accused -- by Jacoby and other MSM writers who should know better -- not merely of wearing something into an airport that she'd been wearing for several days on campus and in the streets of Cambridge without causing any bomb scares, but of doing so as a form of performance art?
Because, for one reason or another, these writers hate performance art. (Or, if they're cynical, they believe that their readers hate performance art, and they want to please their readers.) That's why Simpson -- who, despite her cool hairdo, is an engineer, not a performer; and whose Play-Doh-squeezing habit is no more sinister than Gary Cooper's tuba-tooting habit in "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town"* -- has been branded a performance artist, and vilified for the performance-art equivalent of shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater.
Literally. As I pointed out yesterday, the Boston Herald's Howie Carr wants readers to believe that Star is a performance artist. Among other, equally cruel and misleading statements, Carr gets off this chestnut:
In high school, Star surely learned a lot about self-esteem, but here are a couple of old sayings I'll bet she never heard. Don't do the crime if you can't do the time. And the First Amendment does not give you the right to yell fire in a crowded theater. Or don't bring what looks like a bomb into Logan Airport, while carrying what appears to be plastic explosives in your hands.
Star, in this perspective, is a performance artist whose stunt or hoax backfired, and Carr wants to make sure we don't let her off the hook. These performance artists gotta learn!
Carr's Herald colleage Peter Gelzinis, as we know, was working the same angle: "Maybe Star Anna Simpson thought she could saunter through Logan and return to Cambridge with a helluva tale about how no one said a word to her. Or maybe she thought a half-dozen machine guns would do wonders for her Web site profile." Well, her performance art didn't work out the way she'd hoped, and she shouldn't get away with it! "There is absolutely nothing artistic about scaring people in public places," the Herald's Michele McPhee agrees.
"Lighten up! It was performance art, everybody! It was a brilliant illustration of the gestapo tactics of the Bush Administration to any law-abiding citizen strolling through an airport with something that looks like a bomb. It shows the fascism of the Right that they can't handle an innocent college student walking around with wires and Play Doh under her jacket," a commenter at the libertarian website Free Republic sarcastically chimes in. "It was a stunning performance and I hope she gets an 'A.'"
A commenter at the conservative blog Riehl World View: "I'd say that whichever semi-untalented pile of female flesh they've dug up to replace Rosie O'FootInMouth is probably a few neurons ahead of the rocket scientist whose stellar piece of 'performance art' nearly got her keister blown halfway to Jupiter and back."
Bob Parks, VP of the Massachusetts Republican Assembly, at his Black & Right blog: "Maybe she thought this whole national security thing was just this big joke and everyone would laugh because she's… Star! Maybe she forgot that she forgot that most people at M.I.T. don't major in performance art! Maybe she knew most people would get busted at gunpoint for pulling such a prank, but it would never happen to… ME!"
These writers don't have anything against Simpson, really; they're just seizing an opportunity to bash performance art. (Why? Are they still trying to get back at Yoko Ono for supposedly breaking up the Beatles? Get over it!) If they do so often enough, perhaps Jacoby's prediction will come true: "Someday the art world will rediscover the standards it has abandoned. It will blush when it remembers the way it ... treated silly stunts as works of genius." So Ms. Simpson, you can relax: These attacks aren't about you.
* If you've been suckered into believing that it's weird or sinister to squeeze Play-Doh in public, watch this scene from "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," and remember: "Everybody does something silly to help them think."