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Education by Juxtaposition

My college art history professor used to test our knowledge of painters by showing us two slides at once. It might be Rubens next to Ribera or Van Gogh with Van Eyck. All periods and styles were fair game. Our job, as students, was to compare and contrast the pictures. What was similar? Different? How did the messages of each composition differ from or match its media naranja del momento? What could we learn from this pair that we could not learn by looking at them singly?

Lately, I feel as though I've returned to my beloved professor's class room. More and more, I see juxtapositions that make me meditate on the meaning of things.

Juxtapose 1: Chicken and Egg Economy
The U.S. Post Office is deeply in debt. They may have to cut service. My local post office during this busiest mail month of the year has only two employees handling everything. When one of them takes a well-deserved break, the clerk-to-customer ratio goes as high as 1 to 15. If they re-hired some of the employees they let go, service would be faster and more efficient. More people would come to the Post Office because they would know the service would be good with prices below those of UPS. Image one: Post office losing business. Image two: Post office not taking care of the business it has (and making both customers and employees suffer). Lesson: Cut back services and you do indeed lose business.

Juxtapose 2: No Response for Responders

The Senate appears to be trying to side with Senator Kyl who claims it is un-Christian for the Senate to work between Christmas Day and New Year's Eve. A bill is up for a Senate vote that would provide much-needed health care to 9/11 First Responders---many of whom are now DYING--I repeat: many of whom are now DYING--from health problems related to and caused by their heroic work. The bill has passed the House and needs to pass in the Senate before the new Congress begins. Lesson: Acting in a Christian manner is about service, not a Pharisee-like observance of paid vacation. If you're going to play the Christian card, sir, best brush up on your New Testament reading. Reaction: This juxtaposition makes Orwell's 1984 appear comedic rather than prophetic. Click on 9/11 photo above to go to the Help 9/11 Rescue Workers Blog.

Juxtapose 3: Go Tell It on Media Mountain. Billboards and bus signage purchased by atheists are on the increase, saying, among other things: "Are you good without God? Millions are." This campaign was most likely inspired by the long-running "Billboards by God" campaign with messages such as: "Let's meet at my house before the (televised football) game." --God.

The atheist messages cost a minimum of $100,000 in media purchases as of February 2010. A great deal more has been spent since then. The "God Speaks" billboard campaign started in 1999 and is still visible in many parts of the country. I have not been able to find out hard costs related to this campaign. It began with donated billboard space, with a combined worth of $15 million. I also recently discovered the "God Speaks" sponsored race car on a NASCAR-related site. (Painted on the car was this slogan: "One nation under Me. --God.") Although GodSpeaks no longer is a NASCAR sponsor, recent reports indicate that an "average" NASCAR sponsorship package costs $500,000+. Whatever the amount of these signage shouting matches, the money that supports them could be spent by good people everywhere to help others in need--this sharing and attention to persons in need being a key component to Being Good, with or without God. Lesson: One of the greatest gifts our country's "freedom of religion" gives us is the freedom to shut up, as well as to shout. Let the world hear what "good people" do, not just what they say. by Andreas Kaspar

And so, I think of what I learned from art slides long ago as the world slides by me today: the packages on USPS conveyor belts; firefighters and policemen on their way home from a career they cannot return to, living painful and foreshortened lives; and the man-made signs of belief-in-advertising. Little did I know, as the elegant and intelligent Mr. Kinnard was teaching us art history through a kind of double vision, what sharp, strange juxtapositions awaited me in life beyond university.


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