Separating Art from the Artist

Recently visiting the Ackland Art Museum with Grant individually, it had me pondering about how amazing the artwork is in the permanent and seasonal collection of our art museum. Celebrating 60 years at the nation’s first public state university, it’s interesting how Duke’s leftover was left over to us. But while this visit is like one of many, it most reminds me of what’s done behind the piece. I think about the guilt that drove Kevin Carter to his own demise after capturing the photo “The Vulture and the Little Girl,” which won a Pulitzer Prize. I try to rationalize how hip-hop and R&B artist I enjoy listening to come to untimely ends due to drugs and alcohol overdose with the potential for so much more music. Then I struggle to accept how my favorite actors were discovered to be dark sadistic beings amidst the #MeToo Movement. When Victor created Frankenstein, his vision of a handsome rectified figure from the dead didn’t turn out the way he wanted. Realizing what a monstrous creation he’d just finished, Victor forsaken Frankenstein in the way that a deadbeat dad would do away with their bastard child. However throughout the tale it was difficult to differentiate the art from the artists. Eventually it led to the creator’s demise. Comparing Bill Cosby to Victor, I’ll explain how it’s important that you do so when separating great works with not so great makers. Dr. Heathcliff “Cliff” Huxtable was the “Uncle Phil” before the Fresh Prince ever hit the TV screen. He gave us laughs with his in-house introductions and tears from his lessons to his children. However, in the wake of Bill Cosby (who Huxtable is portrayed by)’s guilty verdict, it’s difficult to separate the art from the artist. In this age of social media, there are still “Cosby kids.” From watching Little Bill before school began to being excited about the live-action adaptation of “Fat Albert” starring SNL’s Kenan Thompson, he’s touched consecutive generations both young and old. Cosby even has ties to Carolina, as he graced the cover of UNC Black Ink Magazine in the 1990’s ahead of his visit with the Black Student Movement. In the early 2000s, he gave the guest speaker commencement address to a crowded Kenan Stadium. Following that, he received an honorary doctorate degree from UNC-Chapel Hill. But now all that and more is gone as he faces 3-10 years in solitary confinement for decades of sexual assault. Admittedly, I had trouble accepting this. Not Bill Cosby? He’s over 80 years, he couldn’t have hurt a fly now. But that’s the thing about it: now, after years of torment behind the television which he’s done to women. And when over a dozen came out with the claim that he’d sexually assaulted them, it just didn’t pass the smell test. Cosby was guilty. Little Bill, The Cosby Show and Fat Albert were the “Frankenstein” creations from Bill. However, it was the latter who was the true monster in his attempt to portray a happy image onscreen while being adulterous off camera.

Wilson Library Scaries

Wilson Library is one of my least favorite places to study on campus, yet one of my most favorite place to conduct study. By conducting study, I specifically mean searching through archival material found within the North Carolina and Southern Historical collection. In ENGL 123, we visited the reading room to observe archival material for Robinson Crusoe, Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein and Jane Eyre. It’s interesting what we observed, from comic books to playbills. The latter was something that caught my interest as I’m a dramatist so it’s attractive in how theatre advertisements show things. The Jane Eyre Playbill was the first artifact I examined. It’s long letters were the first thing that caught my eye. Interestingly enough, the main actresses name was larger than that of the character she played or play name. It’s a technique used by companies when promoting an upcoming motion picture. An “Academy Award-Winning” by an actor/actresses name does the trick in laying legitimacy to a portrayal. At the time of this production, she must’ve been well renown for previous works. Thus, it makes it a big deal that she’s playing Jane instead of vice versa. Seems a bit narcissistic but keep it noted. Underneath the characters names are how each scene is divided up into acts. There’s references to what occurs in each section. As a person who’s watch the film for class, I know what to expect. Someone coming in who isn’t familiar would be questioning the references. What’s traditional about this is the audience of the early ages came into performances with anticipation in acts for what to look out for. I expect that this performance does the same due justice in having no surprises. But with adaptations, there’s always room for a few adjustments. For example, a few years ago Playmakers Repertory Company put on a rendition of Sweeney Todd. But I can recall the big hoopla being the protagonist was portrayed as black. The same goes for the new Company Carolina play “Godspell” where the campus newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, highlighted that Jesus was being played by a black women. These colorblind roles can be confusing but as long as the same messages are conveyed, the original story stays intact. Looking at the playbill as an object, it’s very fragile. So weak that its wrapped in plastic and we aren’t allowed to lift it up. The fabric of the material shows its age in its yellow spots and brown paper. It’s important that Wilson preserves this kind of material so it isn’t destroyed. Other objects around the room have similar conditions. One book for Robinson Crusoe is so fragile that the pages had to be lifted by two hands. The book copy of Frankenstein is so sensitive, we couldn’t open it up for a read. That’s why its vital that these materials are taken good care of as they contain great information, but in a not so great condition. Glad to see to see the first-years in the class exposed to an excellent resource on campus. It won’t be the last time them or I come here.

Friday’s End like Sunday

No matter how Friday is portrayed in “Robinson Crusoe” or “Foe,” his character is docile, deranged and quite depressing. A foreigner turned friend in some adaptations like “Robinson Crusoe on Mars,” Friday is the evil result from European conquest and colonization of Africans. Serving both Susan and Crusoe, he’s subjected to subservience and obedience. Now in the contemporary, we approach his role as problematic in it being a poor representation for people of color in media. And with the recent wave of American slave narratives in the reboot series of “Roots” and the Oscar Award-winning 2013 film “12 Years A Slave,” more hidden stories have been made as a response to this antebellum allure. In my blog, I’d like to explore the traits of Friday as a character in both stories as a comparison to what enslaved people endured.
In “Foe,” Friday is introduced as Cruso’s African slave. He has an inability to speak much due to him not having a tongue. Well in the context of slaves, tongue were cut out as a punishment for speaking out or rebelling. Therefore, this can be an indicator that in “saving” Friday, Cruso may have punished him as well for not being compliant with his condition. At one point in “Robinson Crusoe,” Crusoe tries to teach Friday to call him “master.” The term “master” has a large, negative connotation in terminology used on plantation life. Colloquially spelled as “massa” in some text, it reinforces the power dynamic between master and slave with the referral of names. The slave is subjected and subservient to the master, which is objective and overbearing of the slave. The subtly of the roles speak volume. Another instance can be when Friday is seen dancing in Foe’s clothing bearing nothing. The act captured by Susan is viewed as savage or unruly. His portrayal can be liken to that of black minstrelsy in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Blackface and Jim Crow were satirical derogative figure meant to demean African Americans as cartoonish, ignorant and having rhythm. This observation by her “others” him in being something like entertainment. Lastly, we examined a line that stated Friday’s place in the world. “This is the place where bodies are their own signs. It is the home of Friday (Susan, P. 157).” Susan discovers Friday’s body chain up underwater in the slave quarters of a sunken ship. I bet you that this has direct ties to the Middle Passage of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Hundreds of thousands Africans died on the treacherous journey from Africa to the Americas. Some became sick and were disposed of in the ocean while others dived for death knowing that their fate was already determined when they arrived ashore. The latter is an intriguing concept given Killmonger’s final lines in the 2018 film “Black Panther” where he proclaims that he too would rather die free with his ancestors than live in bondage. With that in mind, Friday can be symbolism in this last scene as the people of color not only in South Africa, but in the colonial Africa that were oppressed to death.