"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

When the End Is the Means

Stephen Murmer has found a new way, perhaps a defining 21st century way, to suffer for his art.

Mr. Murmer is an art teacher at a public high school in Richmond, Virginia, by all accounts an amiable and popular instructor. Mr. Murmer is also "Stan Murmur, the *ss-Painter," who dunks various below-the-belt parts of his body into paint, smears them on canvas, and sells the creations online for hundreds of dollars apiece. (The sudden notoriety has caused bandwidth problems for his site, so don't all click the link at once, OK??)

Both students and faculty have known about the Professor Buttbrush alter ego for several years, and despite a certain unease no official reprimand was delivered, until this past week. Apparently, the school administration just became aware that "Stan Murmer" had appeared on a cable TV show to discuss and demonstrate his, uh, unique talent, and that moreover the clip was attracting attention on YouTube.



Mr. Murmer has been suspended with pay from his teaching duties while an inquiry is underway; the ACLU hovers above the scene squeaking about freedom of expression; the students find the whole controversy "kind of retarded" and no doubt Stan Murmur is going to become much better known and sell a lot more paintings once Jay Leno gets hold of this.

So the story combines several perennial TRC themes: the Omniculture, in its iconic YouTube incarnation; the duty of role models in a culture teetering on the edge of degeneracy; personal freedom vs. responsibility; and the possibility of a long string of barely tolerable puns and double entendres.

I'm posting this without a real opinion one way or the other. On the one hand, my high school art teacher was a prune-faced old scold with the personality of a stalag commandant and the creative scope of a rutabaga. She spent her instruction time ripping up students' work and redoing it in her own image, and in the six years I attended Westfield Jr.-Sr. High she never once unloaded the pottery kiln without cracking every single object inside. I would have traded her for Mr. Groucho Thong in a heartbeat. On the other hand, I had to admit relief that my daughter's art teacher spends her offtime serving in the Navy Reserve and we are unlikely to be treated to a look at her panties, on YouTube or anywhere else.

In an age when Chris Ofili's elephant dung painting is the hit of the Tate, painting pictures of tulips with your rear doesn't seem that cheeky.

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