Ethics Hero: Artist Shepard Fairey

Wait a minute…doesn’t Ava look a bit like Tojo?

I’m so tempted to post this story as a late response to my virtue-signaling Facebook friend who fatuously argued that political correctness was just about “not being an asshole.” this is, of course, another example of partisans using denial to avoid facing inconvenient facts.

Because some delicate flowers complained that the mural above, by artist Beau Stanton, offended them and made them feel unsafe because the rays emanating from the head—of actress Ava Gardner, for God’s sake— reminded them of the Japanese imperial battle flag, the L.A. school district agreed to paint over it. The mural is located at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Koreatown, which is part of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Koreans have not forgiven Japan for its atrocities during World War II, which is understandable. Projecting that on a mural portraying Ava Garder is not.

The school district’s senior regional administrator, Roberto Martinez, compared the Stanton mural to Confederate statues and argues that the value of the art doesn’t outweigh the “offense” to people. Pssst…Facebook friend! He’s the asshole! He’s also too dumb and biased to be a trustworthy educator!

Now artist Shepard Fairey, who painted THIS mural…

…that the students and school love  (it only offends me, since Bobby Kennedy was a con artist, a ruthless pol, and was nothing like his carefully airbrushed image, plus murals like that remind me of Red China and the Soviet Union) has said that if the other mural comes down, so will his. “I’m proud of that mural,” Fairey said of his  work. “I’d love for that mural to stay, but this is the only leverage I have.” The RFK mural is one of the school’s most prominent features, covering an outside wall of the entrance to the library, which is built on the space once occupied by  the Ambassador Hotel ballroom where, in 1968,  RFK gave his last speech, and where he was assassinated shortly thereafter.

Fairey says he is taking a stand against organizations capitulating to extremists by taking the path of least resistance. In  an email he sent to school board President Monica Garcia, he wrote,

“I have talked to a teacher from RFK about where the students stand, and they overwhelmingly want the mural to stay. If Beau’s mural is removed I will reach out to students to have them take part in my mural being painted over as a symbol of the sacrifices that are sometimes necessary to stand up for important principles.”


 Maxwell Kennedy, an attorney and author who is one of RFK’s sons, supported Fairey.

“We are aware of the power of symbols and we stand with Shepard Fairey and Beau Stanton against the … censorship of public art,” Kennedy said “Symbols can be hurtful and there are some symbols that should not be displayed. But rays of light are synonymous in this country with hope.”


Pointer: Althouse

Facts: Herald Mail Media

26 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Artist Shepard Fairey

  1. Call me a cynic, but clearly, the bottom line of this story is that Koreans, certainly Koreans in LA and California generally, don’t rank. Sorry there, Koreans, you’re too good at running bodegas and restaurants and getting your kids into elite schools. There are no spots left on the people of color rankings. Sorry. You’ll just have to suck it up.

  2. Does he have the ability to take his mural down, or is it now a part of the school. I presume this would be determined by contract, but I don’t know.

  3. Very commendable response by Shepard Fairey.

    From what I’ve seen, Japan has done little to atone for its atrocities and war crimes against Koreans and Chinese during WWII. I can understand Koreans not being able to let it go. However, when I saw that mural, the next to last thing that crossed my mind was the Rising Sun flag. Of course, probably the last thing would have been Ava Gardner — if you say that is who it is, I cannot prove you wrong, but still……

    Regardless, it’s good to see someone standing up for freedom of speech against spineless administrators.

  4. I’m no fan of Fairey’s work (most of it just looks like photographs of people put through some heavy Photoshop filters), but this is an impressive response. Far too many organizations lately have been greasing the squeaky wheels at the expense of their core purpose. Hopefully Fairey’s threat will help save the Stanton mural (ugly though it is). For a school to destroy a work of art because a few people attribute a negative connotation to one of its design elements teaches a horrible lesson to the children it’s supposed to be educating.

    • “most of it just looks like photographs of people put through some heavy Photoshop filters”

      No kidding. See also, the insufferable Banksy’s oeuvre.

  5. On political correctness, this is spin. I think the official line is that it is about the right to be impolite. If you know something will offend me, like saying “illegal immigrants,” your complaint about political correctness is just your justification for using offensive language (or be impolite).

    (The problem I have with this is similar to problems I have with the Niggardly Principle. Different, but similar.)

    The theory is that it is all about marketing. One side has done well at using the phrase political correctness; the other side is trying to re-frame the issue along the lines of being impolite/an asshole. I have seen online discussions along these exact lines.

    As someone who is not easily offended, along with my general stoic sensibilities, I don’t concern myself too much with what may offend someone (outside general social conventions) because I can’t control what others will be offended by.

    This is one reason I do not automatically condemn the non-apology apology. If you pretend to be offended, I will pretend to be sorry; on the other hand, if you are offended by stupid stuff, I am really sorry you are that way.


  6. The Japanese battle flag, The Rising Sun, is red on white, not orange on blue-green. And the face looks more like Nefertiti than Ava Gardner.

    • Talk was on the SCOTUS competency about faculties and memory fading as you age, that might include the differences in the memory vs mural images. The people spearheading for the offended kind of have inherited that hatred to deliberately reboot that pain. The ones directly hurt have log gained new lives in a different culture, where public art honoring a notable (a WOMAN, yet) is supposed to be protected.

    • Picky picky

      I ain’t responsible for what my visual cortex dredges out of my subconscious mind in a first impression. I used to be responsible, but as I age more clutter accumulates (I could blame Trump, I guess)

      Have you SEEN the mess in my subconscious? not going in there with less than a shotgun, atropine, and MOPP4 gear…

  7. For what it’s worth, Koreans received better treatment from the Japanese during the Second World War than they had during the preceding decades of Japanese rule. That’s because they were needed more by then, as auxiliaries towards the war effort (e.g. as camp guards, much as the Nazis used Ukrainian collaborators). It still wasn’t good, of course, and wartime shortages worked against a good outcome too.

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