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Guest Writer

As if ideas are enough ...
This family life is killing us
by Eva Lake

hen I first moved back to Oregon, what I knew to be vaguely true sank in even further: New York City isn't "America" in quite the same way as most everywhere else.

Coming back gave me a taste of what is really the American lifestyle – just in general terms, if you will. I was used to being out on the streets with all kinds of colors and languages and agendas in my face.

Here in Portland – no doubt more Brave New World than most towns – I find things a lot more enclosed. People tend to walk from their houses to their cars and when they want to talk to someone, they ring them up on the phone. What you are in contact with is very select and controlled. The biggest pipeline to any ideas or newness at all is through the media, and much of it is about the glorification of families and consumption.

I am not against families, but "family life" as it has been sold to us is killing our future. There's our personal family and what it needs. But there's also that big "family" out there that no one wants to take responsibility for.

I am outraged when President Bush says that certain things will not be condoned by Americans, that we "deserve" certain things. He is not talking about me, that's for sure. Such selfishness and irresponsible gluttony saddens me and makes me real cynical of any concerned pretense.

For instance: The Oregonian received a Pulitzer for a series of articles about a boy with disfigurement and all his surgeries. To me, the interest in the piece and the piece itself were hard to
trust; I know that no one really gives a shit, save in the safety of their normality. As a voyeur, they can dig it – as someone who can anonymously look out the window. But they crave their consumption and feel that they deserve it and really, they want nothing more. They would do their best to cross the street if the boy were approaching and then, if they were safe to do so, they would yell and torment and throw something at him.

My anger seems sophomoric, like the dawning of a 19-year-old. But I am almost 45 and still very much on the outside in many of these matters. Seeing an exhibition called Everyday Sunshine at PICA brought it all back to me in a different light, and I found I was still very much in touch with my Inner Outraged Young Person.

The artist, Harrell Fletcher, celebrates what seems to him like the everyday life of Portland. He spends a residency here and comes up with a multimedia show of photographs, paintings, sculpture and video of Portland people's babies specifically, and families in general.

Sounds sweet and right and nothing to offend. So why was I put off? At first I thought it was all the various media, which to me said: "Look! I learned it all in art school – sort of covering all my bases here" ... without a commitment to excellence at anything. As if ideas are enough. Ugh!

But I had to admit to myself that I just didn't like the subject matter and it took me weeks, thinking back, to understand why. For whatever reasons, I am not a part of the Lake Oswego world (or even Gresham or Beaverton).

When you're young, it's par for the course. But when you're my age, you are in a small minority. To have it shoved into my face at an art space was more than I could take.

I also felt the artist was into nepotism, stroking what and who needed to be stroked. Yet isn't this just too choice and too true for the art world, and the world beyond it? Maybe indeed the artist wasn't so sweet and sunshine after all.

Maybe he was just making some very unattached observations about the community here, about how it works and who gets what – not just the art community of course, but what he saw in general.

Art and pop culture are so intertwined that where one stops and the other begins is unclear. But the permeating message is that as long as it's about the family, it's beyond reproach.

It's also a priority that sees very little real criticism and some of the coolest people don't want to hear that they may have anything to do with it. "Family Life" is an opiate that defends insular decisions and turns many crimes into business as usual: joyful, necessary evils.

See more from Eva in our archives.

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