By taking them to the exhibit dedicated to the 1980s at Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, of course!
I am kidding on the square, seeing how this is a hard glance back at the 1980s with a critical eye: feminism, gender politics, race politics, AIDES, political upheavals in the Latin America, Disappeared, Reaganism, NEA, Robert Mapplethorpe. How do you explain to a young child what happened in the 1980s when all they heard nowadays was how in the 1980s everybody was happy because the economy was great?
It’s kind of scary how little the kids know about what really happened in the 1980s.
It’s also kind of difficult, as a parent, to gauge “how young is old enough” and “how much is too much”. I don’t like to shelter my children but I also want to make sure what I share with them is “age appropriate”…
Race politics. Passing. Stereotypes. Racism. Gender politics.
I believe I screamed, just a little, when I saw Adrian Piper’s My Calling (Cards) on display since I’ve used this often as an example of how one performance artist has chosen to deal with racism in mundane, daily life. MCA has them on display, in multiple copies, free for the taking.
Coming off from my high, I was immediately put on “high alert” when next we walked into the wing dedicated to “Gender Trouble”. Because of the in-your-face shock value of the protest art, I felt I had to prepare Mr. Monk, who’s in 3rd grade, even though he’s a mature 3rd grader, for the images on display. Here’s what I came up with in a panic:
The rise of feminism means that women artists started questioning the social orders in the society: why are men given more power and authority than women? What makes a man a man? What makes a woman a woman? And that’s why they show the anatomy of human being to confront the man-made meanings and differences between men and women, and that’s why you are going to see a lot of penises.
He dutifully nodded, and laughed to mask his discomfort. Nobody wants to hear their mother utter the word “penis” in public even at a whisper.
As I went through the internal struggle of whether to impose “censorship” on the fly, I instinctively shielded him from an open, video screen room [Later, The Husband told me that the room came with a warning sign outside so I guess my instinct was correct]. Then across the room were these:
Robert Mapplethorpe. The artist that embodied two main Reaganism in the 1980s: the government’s willful negligence towards the Aides epidemic and its fight to censor what it deemed as “obscene” art. Without thinking, I had strategically positioned myself between these photos and Mr. Monk’s sight line. To this moment, I am still questioning myself whether I had done the right thing: If I disagree with the conservative’s accusation, why did I shield Mr. Monk’s gaze from these pictures, esp. the leather-encased penis? [In my defense, I was not worried about my 13-year old; he roamed through the exhibit without a chaperon]
Lots of questions were asked: Why was Reagan’s portrait there? Was it for sarcastic reasons? Why? What did he do? Why were people upset?
What is AIDS?
I think Mr. Monk understands this picture or at least walked away with his own interpretation.
[After all, he got it when Jack Donaghy said, about Kenneth the Intern, “He’s a white male with hair, Lemon. The sky’s the limit.”]
Even though this is a child who is extremely mature for his age, sensitive and observant of the world around him, has watched possibly all episodes of The Simpsons, and Weekend Update on SNL with me, I left the museum still questioning myself: Was is it too much? What is too much? Have I shown my child “age appropriate” material?
This is such a difficult picture to look at straight on. But it is not difficult to grasp the messages. Should I have shielded him from the ugliness of the world?
So… 1980s. I almost forgot. It’s not just about the cheesy music, leg warmers and big hairs.
More pictures from our visit to MCA that day here: