January 20, 2002

Factually Correct? The 9/11 Firemen Statue

"Factually Correct?" "I think the artistic expression of diversity would supersede any concern over factual correctness," said a black NYC fireman in defense of depicting as minorities two of the three firemen in that 9-11 statue that will be based on a picture of three white firemen. Jonah Goldberg of NRO works up a good head of steam denouncing the poor man for saying "factual correctness." Jonah seems to assume that works of art inspired by reality were always 100% "factually correct" until insidious postmodernists like Stanley Fish corrupted everybody.

Look, Jonah, Iet me let you in on a secret: George Washington didn't really chop down the cherry tree. As Nabokov used to say, art is artifice. It's artificial. People who make art are called artists, not naturists or factists. Artists have been fudging the facts forever to affirm various values. You can argue about which values art should express, but please don't get up on your high horse about postmodernists inventing factual incorrectness in the arts.

What's actually interesting about the statue controversy is that around 95% of the NYFD is white. NYC firemen are largely a hereditary caste for white Catholics. The few blacks who get in can expect lots of on-the-job harassment intended to keep the NYFD that way. Hereditary castes are supposed to justify their existence by living up to the ideals of noblesse oblige - they live better than others because they are not afraid to die to defend the others. That bargain is seldom fulfilled in real life. Yet, the NYFD has not only satisfied the demands of noblesse oblige, but vastly exceeded them. 1/20/02/

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