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political correctness starts at home

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.

Photo Courtesy of The Husband

[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?


Photo Courtesy of The Husband

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:


Because of my racial/ethnic/cultural/educational make-up, I do not watch what I tell my children: I tend to over-explain everything and over-analyze everything for them. I also like to point out instances of racial/cultural prejudices and stereotypes disregarding whether they may be too young for such identity politics theory talks. Sometimes I feel sorry for them ’cause I have ruined quite a few “plain, good old fun” movies and shows for them.

A downside of such vigilance (or as the mainstream society likes to label it, Paranoia, or as Fox and Friends like to call it, Rampant political correctness that’s ruining this country’s cultural identity and core) on my part is that once in a while I would slip and my kids get to call me out on it.

Then they pile it on thick.


While we were discussing my 13 year old’s birthday party earlier this year, he mentioned that he really would like to go to the penny arcade before the sleepover at our house. Naturally, I tried to talk him out of it.

“Are you sure your friends will like the penny arcade?”

“Duh. It’s the arcade, mom. Of course they’ll like it!”

“How about the twins? They don’t seem to be the kind of kids that would be interested in going to the arcade.” Honestly, I said that based on my observations of how their parents care really about academic performances and how studious these two kids are.

“Mom, don’t be such a racist! Just because they are Indian, you just assume that they like to study all day long and they don’t like to do anything fun?!”

My bad.


On our way home from the blockbuster movie Thor, The Husband asked Mr. Monk, our 8-year-old, who he would like to be if he had to choose: “Thor or his brother Loki?”

“What kind of question is that? Why did you ask him that? Who would have chosen Loki? Of course everybody wants to be Thor!” I interjected because of the whole sibling rivalry thing and I did not want Mr. Monk, sensitive that he is, to dwell on the fact that the younger brother Loki is less than ideal in the movie. (Let me just put it this way so I won’t ruin the movie for you…)

Beside, from a pure aesthetic point of view…


From the backseat a voice immediately piped up, “Oh sure, everybody wants to be Thor. Everybody wants to be the blond-haired, blue-eyed guy.”

Mind you, The Husband is of Scandinavian descent and sports blond hair and blue eyes. (Alas, there ends the similarities between him and Chris Hemsworth… I just need to keep on telling myself that I do not like hairy men…)

“Oh yeah, the blond-haired blue-eyed people are the good guys. And the dark-haired guy nobody likes him.” My oldest continued. “Yeah, let’s just kill the brown-haired guy and the dark-haired people. This is a Hitler movie! A Hitler movie!”


(I have been sitting here for 15 minutes, trying to come up with a tidy ending for this post. I don’t know how to end this post. So I am just going to end it abruptly and go to bed considering how it is 4:43 am…)