Artist Jeff Johnson created a poster to advertise an upcoming gallery show. The poster was a set of statistics — just words and numbers, artfully presented — cataloguing the toll of war on both U.S. soldiers and Iraqi fighters and civilians. But rather than stopping with the usual body count, Johnson’s poster:
… goes on to deconstruct the carnage in exhaustive physical detail: 3,042 pounds of brain matter, 380,422 teeth, 983 tons of flesh and bone, 131,180 fingers.
The newspaper it was supposed to run in refused to publish the ad, saying it was “in poor taste,” though they refused to divulge their “Standards of Good Taste.”
No profanity. No graphics. Just a set of statistics. How can statistics be in poor taste? I suppose a pro-war poster would be in good taste? Some people have a funny sense of taste. The poster is reproduced here.
7 Replies to “380,422 Teeth”
I dunno. I think that if I had lost a loved one in Iraq, seeing their loss reduced simply “quarts of blood” and “pounds of brain matter” might be a little distressing. After all, we humans are more than the sum of our parts.
I don’t see it as reductionism at all. What I see is that people are completely innured to the gruesome reality of war, and due to the fact that the right-wing dominated and controlled American news media virtually refuses to show war for what it is (for pete’s sake, we couldn’t even see pictures of American caskets until they were demanded under FOIA), Americans are about as in touch with the reality of war as they are with the industries that produce their chicken or steak (that is to say, people are completely unaware of what goes in the sausage factory).
If we’re going to be at war, we have a responsiblity to face it head-on and as it is – this was one artist’s attempt to introduce some small glimmer of awareness. If I had a loved one on either side killed in the war, I would welcome as much truth telling as I could get.
So, if you were informed of my death, you’d have no problem calling Kristine and saying, “Heard you lost 32 teeth today?”
So we seem to agree that ‘loosing 32 teeth’ doesn’t sound nearly as bad as ‘loosing 1 life’. Then why is stating that 380,422 teeth are lost more upsetting than saying that between 11,164 and 13,118 people have been killed?
Somehow it does seem to press reality upon me more than the number of people killed. It reminds me (disclaimer:I’m not claiming there are other similarities) of the museum in Auschwitz (www.auschwitz.org.pl) which, among others, displays artificial limbs of people killed there. Somehow this reduction also makes the people killed more, well, real.
Quantification can be pwerful, no doubt.
But qualification is even more so. Each life that has been lost is more than 32 teeth or X pounds of meat. It’s dreams, hopes, aspirations. It’s novels that wll never be written, music that will never be sung, children that will never be born.
The real impact the room of shoes at the Holocaust Museum has upon you only comes after you have seen the rest of the exhibit. You have seen the photos with the rows and rows of doomed faces. You have seen the men, women and children assembled like so much cattle. But a picture only says so much. When you reach the room of shoes, reality hits home.
But the designers of the museum, I think, put that room at the end for a reason. In context, it is striking. If it was at the beginning, most people’s reactions would be, “Wow, that’s a big pile of shoes.” Which entirely misses the point.
I think this piece of art falls into that trap. Like Scot said, with the war so far away, the reality of what is being lost is itself being lost upon us. I don’t see how passing corpses over a deli scale begins to qualify that loss. Quantify it it does, but there is no quality. And I think that’s probably what people found offensive.
Mnep – I somewhat agree with your perspective (the tonnage and tooth-count will undoubtably distressing to some, but will add more perspective). What I find the most poignant is the more “ethereal” numbers – years that won’t be lived, generation of orphans, etc. Although some might argue that the years not lived number somewhat misses the point (which would trouble me deeply).