Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ray Gloeckler's Gotcha Truth in Politics

When one looks at the the United States's political system, it is comparatively unique to other countries. At least that's how the rest of the world sees us, and they may be right. When we came to this place over two centuries ago, we looked at other civilizations' forms of government, discussed their merits and settled upon this Democratic methodology that we still deal with today. Working with a basic two political party system, (Yes, other parties can and do exist, but it's basically the Republican and Democratic parties that people gravitate toward in our elections) we manage to captivate the world with our candidates' quatri-annual noble and childish antics disguised as 'debates'. People from other countries marvel at our system and wonder how we can go through this parade of candidates every four years. We do, too, for better or for worse.

With our upcoming presidential elections in the fall, it seems appropriate to discuss the hard-hitting, scathing commentary that Raymond Gloeckler's astute artistic eye puts forth in his own satirical prints. I have known of Gloeckler's work for a long time. His printmaking program at University of Wisconsin, and I would say that because he and his colleagues created a really strong printmaking program in Madison, which continues to be one of this country's best. There, Gloeckler worked with the direct and unforgiving relief medium, building a body of prints over the years that he describes through his animal and character subjects as mostly a self-portrait. His no-holds-barred approach spreads over into politics as we look at a couple of his pieces that seem in tune with our current situation.
Gloeckler's charming portrait of President Obama speaks to his high idealism, and his optimism for America's future. With one finger pointed up, he addresses a point of government policy and looks like Socrates, asking his listeners to aspire to a  moralistic code of ethical life, truth and political practice, which we all know doesn't occur very often in the political arena. The other hand, also with a pointed finger, ready to be raised, or maybe more to illustrate the point at hand in 2008 and again in 2012, that what comes up, can also come down. There is no middle road to take. We are either going up or down, but if President Obama is smiling, then I hope it is up. There has been much commentary made about a young politician running a political system with naive idealism, but the country did elect this man to the presidency because they were tired of the old political system and the state of affairs the country had been brought to bear. Like it or not, Gloeckler's image shows, in the simplest of ways, the country's willingness to try out a new set of ideas and try to find its way through the muck it found itself in.

The image that got my attention moreso was Gloeckler's "Gotcha", where the US bald eagle hovers above the, for lack of better phrasing, Butt-Kicking, the Democratic and Republican animals seem eternally engaged in 'doing to the other'. Their animated gestures and the terrific glee and pain with which these two symbols of US political strength 'go at it', is humorous in the same manner other satirical artists have candidly spoken their opinions. Gloeckler give us this tour de force and we have to laugh. The crusade for domination is not always equal between these two parties, but you know it's gonna be as good as watching a Superbowl game, or a rock'em-sock'em "I'm gonna knock your block off" boxing match. They will never give up, and they will never stop tearing their opponent apart in the quest to be The Victor.  Unfortunately, they seem so entrenched in their own shenanigans that they forget the world watches this circus and must shake their heads wondering how such a political superpower can act no better than children tussling over a favorite playtoy.

While we can laugh when looking at Gloeckler's work,  the reality is he brutally points out this country's two party co-dependent system can't break away from each other. A friend of mine once asked me, why American politics are so limited to working with only two parties? He is from India, where there can be as many as forty political parties running or in office, in one administration! We'd probably feel that was pandemonium, but it does seem to work for them. What would be novel, is if we could ever really expand beyond the two parties to embrace more opinions and hope to reach more consensus. But that idealism threatens those in 'the power struggle'. I don't portend to want to be Socrates, but I can and do appreciate the light-hearted truth of Gloeckler's work.  Here's to the next time we watch the candidates going at each other in our 'campaign circus maximus', we can think on his work and enjoy our own 'Gotcha' moment.

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