Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mission 6: The Tard Supper

Dan Savage just published a blog post about a painting by Russian artist Raoef Mamedov. This painting recreates the Last Supper, replacing Christ and his disciples with people who have Down syndrome. I'm not sure what the artist has in mind with this particular piece. It's beautifully rendered, and it's obviously open to interpretation. From my perspective, it's everything good art should be. I think it shows people with Down syndrome in a very beautiful light. I dunno, maybe other people just look at it and laugh at the "retards." Or maybe it's a hit piece on Christians. Like I said - it's open to interpretation.

Anyway, my problem is not with the artwork, it's with the headline Dan Savage chose for it. The Tard Supper. Ah Dan, so eloquent. For those of you who don't know, Dan is a nationally syndicated, openly-gay sex columnist. I happen to be a big fan of his column, because he is incredibly smart, interesting and witty. But surely Dan, of all people, should know what it feels like to be dismissed by hateful and hurtful labels. So I won't give him a pass as he mocks the mentally challenged.

Oz Squad members - please visit this link to see the post for yourself. Dan could benefit from hearing our comments. He should change the headline and write an apology, and that's what we all need to ask him to do.

For more information on the artist, here's an excerpt I pulled from a press packet. It explains some of his technique/motivation.

Moscow-based Mamedov utilizes the process of film direction by collaborating with a painter, photographer, computer technician, and actors to produce extrasensory photographs. Though the scenes viewed in the final works are complex with multiple players, each actor is separately photographed with Mamedov directing the actors’ emotions and providing the vision for the subsequent digitization and computer placement. Adding a strange conceptual twist, his “actors” range from institutionalized mental patients to individuals with Down Syndrome enabling him to utilize the true abilities of the actors’ minds as an art medium that heighten the pieces’ cultural connections and meanings.

Mamedov tackles the Bible and foundations of Christianity with straight adaptations of historical masterpieces by Nicolai Ge, Leonardo da Vinci, and Jan van Eyck. The featured works depict scenes from the New Testament played by actors with Down Syndrome. In portraying biblical characters, elements of the actors’ real-time fragmented state of mind and their tendency to think in quotations highlights the humanism of those portrayed personalities. Mamedov relates the state of his actors’ minds to Satori, a Zen Buddhist notion meaning sudden enlightenment or a flash of sudden awareness. This notion of a flash of consciousness elevates the visual impact of the art as an essentially pure communication of the acted message.

Want more? Find the full packet here.

Thanks to Oz Squad member Melissa for the alert!


  1. (sigh).
    Savage is totally tone deaf to this whole thing. I've written him before, as have others, and he either ignores or laughs at the offense, such as when he decided he'd start calling things "leotarded" instead of retarded. But definitely worth writing to him again. Thanks for the notice.

  2. I can see the beauty in the Last Supper depiction using adults w/ Ds. The artist has actually done something admirable by opening our minds to this idea. Sadly, though, I can also see that ignorant people such as Dan Savage, who see those w/ mental challenges as inferior, would use this to mock the individuals as well as the Biblical scene depicted. I'll leave a comment on his blog. Thank you for pointing this out.

  3. Dan values shock, and he is blunt, and he knows that his directness causes others to squirm, and I think he really likes that.

    I am posting my thoughts on my blog if anyone wants to read them... what it boils down to for me is this: what would Dan say to his son's school principal/counselor/teacher/whoever if they called home to tell him that his son had called a fellow student with Ds a "tard"? "Hey, this isn't a problem, it's just a word?" It is a problem. That's why a call home is made. It's a problem at school because we are trying to properly socialize our children in school and teach them what's appropriate in our larger society. And calling someone a "tard" isn't.

    Perhaps if he doesn't get it, his editor might:

    Contact info for The Stranger:

    1535 11th Ave. 3rd Floor
    Seattle, WA 98122

    (206) 323-7101

    (206) 323-7203


  4. Thanks for the alert squad leader. I came across those pictures a couple months ago and was touched by their beautiful message. I just don't understand the level of insensitivity that Dan Savage portrays. I left a brief comment on his blog, Twittered, Facebooked ...

  5. Thank you for the heads up. I left a comment as well.

  6. Thanks for keeping us on the ball.

    Sincerely, Comment-Leaver #46

  7. Lots of comments, not a word from Dan Savage. Members, if you have not commented, please take time to do so. I really don't want to let this slide, because Dan has a lot of influence. He should not be allowed to use hate speech, especially casually. Anyway, I'm thinking about the next course of action. Shall we turn up the heat a notch or two? Maybe find a way to contact the artist and let him know about Dan's comment? Start hammering Dan's publisher? Reaching out to his sponsors? Or maybe drop a line to Patricia E. Bower and try to get hundreds and hundreds of people to comment on Dan's blog posts every single day until he responds? I don't just mean on that post, I mean on every post he adds. Just take over his comment section until he cannot ignore it.

    One note - I have tried to comment Patricia before, and got no response. She needs to hear from several of us.

    Dan has been using this word for awhile, and it needs to stop. It was not a casual slip up. We deserve an apology, and I don't see this as any different than the Michael Richards comic flap or the Don Imus flap. Actually, because it isn't an isolated incident, it's worse than those two controversies.

  8. I was informed yesterday that Dan himself is the editor of "The Stranger" - if that's true, I guess we won't get far with his editor?

    I'm going to dig out my copy of "The Kid" (yes, I'm a fan of Dan's work!) to see if I can't find his thoughts on the chances of his kid having FAS.

  9. What about contacting other media outlets to publicize this? They might be interested in doing a story about this or the Oz Squad in general. Magazines/papers/web sites targeted to the gay community (like Just Out, The Advocate, etc) might like to comment on Dan Savage's hypocritical attitude about hate speech. I agree 100% with not letting this go.

  10. Susan - I love that idea. It IS hypocrisy, and I think many people would be interested in pointing it out. I think a huge portion of Dan's followers would agree with us, but I bet many of them have not really thought about it from our perspective. Anyone else have any ideas?

    Oh - and dan may be the editor, but he has a publisher. Someone is signing his checks.

  11. Also - I just wrote to Patricia E. Bauer (whoops - misspelled it earlier). I'm awaiting her response. Let's cross our fingers and hope we get one. Anyone else who wants to write to her can do it here:


  12. Commented. Doubt it will have any effect. I think Savage is a jerk who is tone deaf to any of this.

  13. Even a person who is tone deaf can hear a bullhorn. He may ignore it, but he will hear it, and he should hear it.

  14. Dan, thanks for alterting me. I'm heading over to make a comment now.

    I'm not sure how to intrepret the art either. Like you said, it's open to intrepretation.

  15. I meant to say alerting me. We need edit buttons on blogs. :) xox

  16. I really doubt they are coming from Oz Squad members, but the last few comments on the Dan Savage blog have crossed a line into insults and attacks on homosexuality. With these types of comments, there is the risk that our complaints will be dismissed as just the rants of gay-hating right-wing fanatics, and our message will be lost. I hope the discussion gets back to focusing on the issue and doesn't continue to deteriorate.

  17. Susan - I agree. I won't tolerate Oz Squad being used as a conduit for gay hate speech, or hate speech against any group, for that matter. If slinging Bible verses at homosexuals is your thing, your best course of action is to turn in your wings and go solo. I hate to be a jerk about it, but I'm not going to lead a band of firebreathing, intolerant fundamentalists. I hope that doesn't turn everyone against me, but if it does, I guess I'll just have to live with it. I've certainly dealt with far worse things in my life.

  18. Ok, soldiers... we are an elite team. Let's not let tough topics that we may not all agree on such as abortion or homosexuality wedge us apart. We came together to advocate for and protect those we love who have Ds. That is our only goal here on OS.

    I will be the first to admit that I get very fired up about a lot of things but we need to remain focused, and together.

  19. I'm choosing to post this comment with a profile I try to keep separate from the Down syndrome community I am a part of. I have the semi-unique position of being gay, having a child with Down syndrome, and having adopted that child.

    Do you know WHY I keep my gay world and my Down syndrome communities segregated? Because of situations like this. Dan Savage has experienced the not-so-nice side of life because he's gay. Why he would choose to turn around and hand that down to another group or community is intellectually understandable (I was made fun of, I will make fun of) but shameful in the capacity of people first thinking. Off to read Dan....oh boy.

  20. CJ! my wife and I are in this unique position too. But don't you think that having been in the situation of being made fun of would make a person more sensitive to and less apt to make fun of others? More able to see that than others who have not been in the shoes of the put-down?

    Anyway, that's not my point. What I want to know is: do you all think it would be a waste of money to send Dan a copy of "Gifts 2: How People with Down Syndrome Enrich the World"? If he's not reading his comments (and I'm guessing he is, and choosing to not comment on them), this would get our point right in his face. And he might just read it.

    Wondering what you all think. Love, Jen.

  21. onlywhoiam: I completely agree with you....and that's exactly the point I made in my post on Mr. Savage's site. I don't think sending him a book would HURT....you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. But at least it would be right in front of his face.

  22. Comment now posted. I saw the one comment on their about how he is jsut riding off the notoriety/hits he is getting by being inflamatory. It reminded me of the Dr. Amy debacle. I guess that might be an inherant issue in any of these situations.
    CJ- I saw your last comment on there- did he respond to an email you sent him re it?

  23. It is interesting to note that in the "Most Commented on Slog" the article is not referenced. Despite that it has more comments than most of the articles cited. There is obviously some censor at Slog. That may be a small victory in itself.

  24. BTW - in my comments on slog "pansy-assed" is a term that Dan Savage himself uses when defending his ability to use the word "leotarded" in article Neologisms R Us dated September 14th. In that article taken from NPR he defends his right to use the word.

  25. Love the Oregonian article. Find most of the follow-up comments hard to swallow though. I can't believe there are so many hateful people who think it's allright to go around bullying others via name-calling and justifying it with that ridiculous sticks-and-stones rhyme. I left a comment. I'm sure it'll fall on the deaf ears of those who commented in favor of the continued use of the "R" word and other derogatory terms. I've gotta say, I'd rather hear the "F" word in every sentence than the "R" word any day of the week. Isn't that telling?

    xo maggie
    Mom to 4 1/2-year-old Identical Twins with DS