Wal-Mart, Iraq, and an Inexcusable Silence

Image of Alice Walton from WikipediaLee Rosenbaum’s article in today’s Wall Street Journal adds another layer to the post I wrote about Randolph College selling off its art collection (inspired by Rosenbaum’s original post here). According to the article, one of the major forces behind struggling institutions auctioning off prized artwork could have something to do with the current market for American masterpieces. Especially given the fact that Alice Walton (heiress to the Wal-Mart fortune valued at $16.1 billion) is in search of art by US masters to fill her Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas which will be opening in 2009.

Looks like we have the makings of a modern day William Randolph Hearst, parvenus with an eye for breaking into the elite world of high-priced art and culture. And wouldn’t you know it, with $16 billion at your disposal it probably won’t be all that difficult. At the same time, the way in which this nation’s cultural heritage is valued and sold like prime real estate on the open market, should we really be surprised that individuals with so much money can and will purchase these works to build their own individualized empires of culture. Commodifying culture is nothing new, but has it reached the point of complete dislocation from the world we live in. Amy Branham, in her recent post “America Went Shopping While our Constitution Slowly Burned…”, does a nice job of tracing American’s reaction to their government’s flagrant abuse of personal freedoms in a post-9/11 political landscape:

Right after the horrific tragedy of 9/11, Americans were glued to their television sets. We couldn’t believe we had been attacked on our own soil and we were outraged. We mourned and we cried. We learned that it was terrorists who attacked us, specifically, al Qaeda. Shortly thereafter, the President declared war on al Qaeda.

Good American citizens across the country wanted to know what they could do to help. Go shopping, the President told us. Travel, and do the things you have always done. Don’t change your lives. Don’t let the terrorists win.

So, we went shopping in droves. We bought up gas guzzling SUV’s and RV’s, went to Wal-Mart en masse to buy up cheap goods from China, and we traveled the country. We continued to take our kids to soccer and baseball practice, went to movies and football games and did what we in America do best. We spent money. We bought homes and got mortgages we couldn’t really afford and the housing industry went through the roof.

We went to Wal-Mart en masse and bought cheap so that Alice Walton could bid high on our culture, all the while disregarding (or blatantly ignoring) what “Needs to Be Said” again and again and again.

And who said the Democratic congress would correct so many of the threats to our civil liberties? Isn’t it time for some real representation that doesn’t fall into the increasingly conservative alternative of the Democratic party? I hate to blog about politics in the US because it makes me so vitriolic, but how can I both dream and complain if I further an inexcusable silence?

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