Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Lipstick On A Pig

There was a time when I believed in what I’ve come to think of as Seattle Exceptionalism. This was the belief that while other cities around the nation become upscale islands of affluence that pursue the interests of the most affluent at the expense of the most desperate, we, here in eco-obsessed, liberal, and excessively polite Seattle would never go there.

Within the largely depoliticized, often victim-blaming framework through which homelessness is commonly understood, it’s easy to miss that the modern period of homelessness is largely a product of economic restructuring. Since 1973, inequality has only widened. This trend has accelerated most precipitously at the very top and the very bottom.

The urban landscape has changed. The logic of deindustrialization and the two-tiered economy has spawned a widespread reinvention of the city. Urban centers now exist as centers of upscale consumption and culture for those who can pay the price. Those who have been left out of the economy altogether are widely viewed as unsightly and dangerous indicators of social disorder. This victim-blaming ideology has become the common sense of our time.

With this, certain strategies have become typical. Most cities now have “urban ambassadors” who move the homeless along. Panhandling ordinances have proliferated. Sweeps of homeless encampments are commonplace. Feeding people in public is widely outlawed. Public toilets are defined as vectors of crime and removed. The meanness keeps getting meaner.

And yet, even as cities from Los Angeles to Boston and Dallas to Tampa continually upped the ante on attacking the very poor, I thought Seattle was different. I was wrong.

The Mayor is fond of trumpeting Seattle’s commitment to “ending homelessness,” even as he ruthlessly attacks homeless campers without providing viable survival alternatives.

This pig is wearing a lot of lipstick and eyeliner, but it’s still a pig.


Trevor said...

Not sure this personalizing of the dispute is helpful, and I worry it obscures your bigger point about the systemic nature of poverty and oppression.

Tim Harris said...

Yes. It's self-indulgent and somewhat cruel. But at the same time, the caricature expresses a certain powerful truth. Despite its disconcerting realism, This image is well within the bounds of satirical editorial cartooning.

My sense is that Photoshopping the Mayor into a piggy and putting some lipstick on his essentially porcine face is a good deal less cruel and disrespectful than criminalizing the survival of those who have very limited options and throwing away their tents, blankets, and other belongings, but it does, as these things normally go, feel a bit below the belt.

My larger point has been made a hundred times in this blog, and the defenders of people like Nickels find these arguments conveniently easy to dismiss. This photo won't convince any of them of anything.

I say, "If the nose, ears, and lipstick fit, wear them."

Tim Harris said...

Excuse me while I belabor, but here's the root of the word caricature, from Wikipedia:

The term is derived from the Italian caricare- to charge or load. An early definition occurs in the English doctor Sir Thomas Browne's Christian Morals (first pub.1716).

Expose not thy self by four-footed manners unto monstrous draughts, and Caricatura representations.

with the footnote —

When Men's faces are drawn with resemblance to some other Animals, the Italians call it, to be drawn in Caricatura

Thus, the word "caricature" essentially means a "loaded portrait".

And then there's the immortal observation by Abraham Lincoln: "Every man over forty is responsible for his face."

John Sulmonte said...

As if Pig Nichols isn't a pig. This is why so much fails to be accomplished. As persons are concerned about offending. ....WHO exactly and personalizing what.....give me a F------ Break. Pig Nicholas made it very personal by attacking citizens who are defenseless. I really like that passive aggressive mentally here in the pacific northwest which translates into people who do noting but complain about personalizing the issues. Well someone is making a big mess here in Seattle and my first thought is Pig Nichols and his Buddy Ron Sims along with the court system, who if you read trevor consumes 70 percent of the county budget, for corrupt judges and likes of all the corruption in this town that has been published and published and published, and guess what these are more pigs who feed off the citizens. What is happening in Seattle and around this country is nothing but pure Greed. And yes it is personal, since real people are the the ones creating this cruel and out of control climate here in our City.
Please God Give me the strength to tolerate those who think calling a spade a spade is Personalizing