Thursday, April 03, 2008


Every time I think I've fully absorbed the list of things right-wingers consider to be threats to Western civilization, another wingnut comes along and adds something new to the list.

This time it's Richard Poe, now of NewsMax and formerly of David Horowitz's, a guy who collaborated with Horowitz on the book The Shadow Party: How George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Sixties Radicals Seized Control of the Democratic Party (hmmm ... parts of that don't seem to be working out all that well these days). Poe thinks our moral fiber is being weakened by ... big purple numbers on our money. Hide the children!

HAVE YOU seen the new five-dollar bill? It looks like someone spilled grape juice on it. A violet stain obscures Abraham Lincoln's face. On the back, an oversized numeral five appears in purple. Enough is enough. We must stop the desecration of our currency.

... The fact is, we are being hoodwinked. The redesign of our currency has nothing to do with fighting counterfeiters or helping people with weak eyesight. It has everything to do with catering to the perverse canons of postmodernist art.

Yes, he's serious:

The U.S. Treasury has allowed a cabal of avant-garde designers to pull off one of the most audacious practical jokes in art history; the "subversion" and "deconstruction" of the U.S. dollar. We the taxpayers must demand an end to this cultural vandalism.

... For PoMo's apostles, art is a weapon of revolution. Its purpose is to mock, degrade and undermine the cherished beliefs of Western civilization....

Photographer Andres Serrano famously deconstructed Christianity in 1989 by snapping a picture of a crucifix submerged in Serrano's own urine. In 1999, the Brooklyn Museum showcased an image of the Virgin Mary which artist Chris Ofili had splattered with elephant dung.

And that's exactly like putting a large, hard-to-counterfeit pastel number in one corner of a $5 bill.

Meanwhile PoMo designers have been doing to national currencies what Serrano and Ofili did to Christianity.

Er, sniping ineffectually, but in an aesthetically arresting way?

Their first target was the Dutch guilder....

Poe goes into the story of Ootje Oxenaar, who redesigned Dutch banknotes from 1966 to 1985. Oxenaar does seem to have been a tad irreverent -- he replaced an admiral on the 100-guilder note with a seabird, and he embedded ex-girlfriends' names in the 250-guilder note. But here's the thing -- the bills he designed are kinda awesome:

Is this horrible, decadent, will-sapping, civilization-destroying play money, as Poe insists? If so, give me more -- if we have to put some color on our bills anyway, I wish we'd go all the way and do stuff like this. Yeah, I did like the old bills, with their rich webs of spidery lines, but I like these, too -- and I find that, somehow, I can look at them without deciding that there's no such thing as absolute truth and without concluding that bourgeois morality is a sham. I guess I'm just made of sterner stuff than Richard Poe.


(Links updated 10/14/09.)

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