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Presidential Debate # 2

Stag at Sharkey's by George BellowsObama came out fighting this time and the debate was a slug fest. The media  folk who for the past week had been telling us that undecided voters were dismayed by Obama’s lackluster performance in the first debate, now tell us those same voters are worried about the nasty alpha-male behavior of the candidates. Frankly, we’re getting tired of being told what voters are thinking. About half favor Obama and about half favor Romney. We think we’ve got that right. And then there are the undecided voters. We think those famous undecided voters must be stupid or willfully ignorant. Can’t they tell the difference between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama?  Maybe the undecided can tell the difference but can’t make a choice. In either case, we suggest they stay home and not to go the polls on election day. And, yes, we’re feeling grumpy.

As for the consequences of this second debate — Yes,  Barack Obama showed there’s still fight in him, that he wants the job, that he’s still “presidential.” Mitt Romney had done a remarkable job of establishing himself as a plausible president in the first debate, and he wasn’t  knocked down in this one. But you knew all that already. Other democracies have electoral campaigns  that last a few months. You’re probably getting tired of this everlasting presidential contest and scandalized by the billions being spent on advertising. So are we. Let’s talk about the painting above this post.


The painting above is Stag at Sharkey’s by George Bellows. Bellows was a member of the “Ashcan School,”  a group of eight painters who painted realistic scenes of urban life,  focusing especially on the poor.  Stag at Sharkey’s was painted in 1909 when boxing in New York was tolerated but not quite legal – nicely suggested by the black background  and the darkness surrounding the starkly illuminated fighters. Bellows also made a lithograph of this same scene, and in that work  musculature of the boxers is clear and correct, whereas in this painting the bodies are represented  by raw slabs of paint with only a minimal attempt at anatomical accuracy. But that rawness, our visual recognition that the paint has been slapped and smeared violently onto the canvas, gives the painting the stunning immediacy and violence of the fight itself. Of course, George Bellows didn’t violently  smear the canvas with paint — he merely made it look that way. You’ll also notice the dynamic imbalance of the boxers stance is made visually stable by the depiction of the referee, the three figures combining to make a solid pyramidal structure. Boxing in New York gained legal status and a firm set of rules in 1920 with the Walker Law which established an athletic commission to oversee the sport and to regulate the boxing matches.

More Notes

Tim Carmody, in his excellent piece, "How Haiti Became Poor", notes that President Trump's racist policies and vulgar language have sullied the word "shithole" which used to be one of the all-time great swear words. He's right. It's another terrible power this careless President wields.