“He Gets Us” is what I call the Jesus campaign. Its creators noted: “One of the interesting things that happened while we were producing this was the casting. We wanted to use people that we thought would immediately elicit judgment from others.” They used art (casting) to further their mission, a modernization of the Second Commandment.
We, humans, are susceptible. We react to one or another artistic expression each day and sometimes our attitudes shift. And since the media of the day have torn down mass communication barriers the opportunity to spread influence is quite extraordinary. And not infrequently controversial. Beyond commercial art, which is ever present, we no longer need to go to a museum or gallery to be moved by artistic expression.
“He Gets Us” is a notable campaign which uses Jesus and his spiritual expressions as a modern day influencer. The artists take Jesus out of ancient times and put him in our time.
So what about Frederick Douglass? And what about new images of Douglass? An image created by the artist Adam Himoff and given life in Easton on the wall facing the restaurant Out of the Fire on Washington Street?
Douglass, at least in his initial home town of Talbot County, Maryland, where he was enslaved, is from time to time given honored recognition. But overall it is my guess that few people know the Douglass of history and his monumental accomplishments.
Himoff’s portrayal has sparked controversy. Good. Hopefully the controversy has provoked curiosity. For example, how many know that Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were contemporaries and met several times before Lincoln was dispatched by an assassins bullet?
Lincoln and Douglass had their differences. At the risk of too much brevity, Douglass thought Lincoln was going too slow in ending inequality in pay for black and white Union soldiers. Lincoln believed that if he was too aggressive—radical—he would lose support for his efforts at unity. Their differences and admiration for each other are history. History that should be read and understood as we are the ones to carry the burden of “building a better union.”
Returning to the present, many artists push beyond societal lines to call attention to their works and implicit attitude. Recall Andres Serrano, the photographer and his 1987 work, Piss Christ. Serrano submerged a crucifix in a bottle of his own urine, photographed it and then displayed it. Offense is too mild a word to describe the reaction.
The Douglass mural we can see in person or virtually is interpretive and the artist is respectful, although that conclusion is necessarily a subjective one. It opens a new window on Douglass and I hope provokes more discussion of this remarkable son of the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I believe Douglass would be honored by the portrayal and the discussion that has followed . As he noted “if there is not struggle there is no progress.”
If it takes controversy and criticism to provoke curiosity and ultimately understanding, bring it on.
If you are curious about the “He Gets Us” campaign, here is a sample using the most advanced technology, illustratively.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.