Monday, January 26, 2015

Rebus is Against Shooting Cartoonists

But, of course!

From my OpEd piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch's Sunday Commentary section (Jan. 25, 2015):
With its dark ironies and sarcastic jabs, satire stretches us. It’s never been everyone’s cup of tea. History tells us it’s always been dangerous. Since one person’s freedom of expression can be another person’s enemy of peace, some attempts at satirical humor bend us out of shape. The debate that’s been underway since the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris on Jan. 7 has served to remind us that the edge of mockery can cut two ways. Maybe more than two ways.
Note: Rebus is and always has been against shooting cartoonists. Click here to read "Cream Pies for Bullies: The Importance of Satire." 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Chez Roue' signed for Feb. 15 Bijou event

Chez Roue' will play live at the New York Deli, 
9 p.m. - 11 p.m. on Sun., Feb. 15. 

The Academy Award nominee, "Finding Vivian Maier" (2014), is being presented by the Bijou Film Center, in conjunction with the our partners for this occasion: The Byrd Theatre Foundation, Candela Book + Gallery and the VCUarts Department of Photography and Film.

Show time for the movie is 7 p.m. Admission at the box office will be $7.00. Advance tickets for $5.00 will be available soon at selected locations. Advance tickets are already available online at Eventbrite for $5.00 (plus $1.27 handling fee).

Chez Roue' will perform live on stage following the Richmond premiere screening of “Finding Vivian Maier” at the Byrd Theatre. Please note, there will be no cover charge for the live music at the Deli.

In the photo above, left-to-right, Chez Roue' are: Debo Dabney on piano, Roger Carroll on saxophone, Johnny Hott on drums. Brian Sulser (seen only in the mirror) is on bass. For Chez Roue' fans it's important to bear in mind that this gig will be Roger Carroll's next-to-last performance in Richmond, before he moves to Chicago.

Please note: James Parrish and I are still polishing some details for the event, including lining up prizes for the raffles, but the schedule is now set for our second Bijou at the Byrd fundraising event. As before, film-wise, there will also be a wee surprise. Stay tuned for more information soon.

-- Photo credits: Chez Roue' by Scott Elmquist. 
Vivian Maier's selfie by herself.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Ballpark Bandwagon Breakdown

Between January and September of 2014 Richmond witnessed the coalescence of a significant resistance to the notion of building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom. In May the volume of the opposition chorus apparently surprised Mayor Dwight Jones (pictured left). Now it seems unlikely Jones’ so-called “revitalization” plan, as originally advertised, is ever going fall into place.

However unpopular with the voters the mayor’s plans for Shockoe Bottom and North Boulevard have become, shifts in the thinking of some on City Council may animate makeovers in 2015. What effect the rearranging of councilmanic chairs will have on the ballpark issue isn't known, yet. As we wait for that drama unfold, it's worthwhile to organize the 2014 record of the brouhaha for the sake of facilitating a clear perspective.

What came to stifle the mayor’s stadium-building scheme last year began gathering over the winter. Although no single entity was coordinating it, by early spring the escalating criticism of the Jones plan was pouring in from several directions.

However, now it seems there was one standout event that proved to be the tipping point. It appeared out of the blue on Apr. 28. On that Monday morning a group of students from Richmond public schools appeared at City Hall with a purpose. The majority of them were from Open High.

Whether one called it a "flash mob," or a "walkout," the protest march had obviously been prompted by a couple of telling Style Weekly articles ("Caving In" and "Filling Holes") published earlier the same month. The stories revealed dreadful conditions in some local public schools; the students acted on their own volition. They carried signs with messages for all to see. Some messages decried dilapidated school buildings. Others protested the Shockoe Stadium plan.

The next surprise came later that same fateful day. Instead of dispatching a brief note to congratulate the kids for their civic-minded moxie, and to say he was too busy to meet with them, Hizzoner decided to smooth the students’ ruffled feathers with his practiced mayoral patter. Well, in baseball parlance, Jones "booted" his chance to make a play. His painfully awkward response to the students' questions about the city's skewed spending priorities was worse than inadequate.

Naturally, the local media were all over the story of a flummoxed mayor. The kids looked good on TV.


Pre-turning point:

When Mayor Jones rolled out his large-dollar plan to “revitalize” the city on Nov. 11, 2013, he presented the building of a baseball stadium in the Bottom as an essential component. He spoke of how it would create jobs, enlarge the city's tax base and get a slavery-related museum built, too.

No doubt, 2014 began with the perceivable momentum on the mayor's side. Jones’ Chief Administrative Officer and top salesman, Byron Marshall, appeared more than up to the task of ramrodding the taxpayer-backed project through Richmond’s nine-member City Council.

As the baseball-in-the-Bottom bandwagon chugged through the first month of the 11th year of baseball stadium debate in Richmond, dissent to the mayor’s plan couldn’t be heard over establishment media-amplified boosterism. Venture Richmond’s ubiquitous LovingRVA public relations campaign was pumping high-test fuel into the bandwagon’s tank.

That, while no person or organization was speaking for the scattered opposition. Some wanted to protect Shockoe Bottom from an outrageously inappropriate development. Some saw another build-it-and-they-will-come boondoggle in the making. Others stood against what they believed to be an impractical plan, a plan that turned a blind eye on what baseball fans seemed to prefer.

Leading up to 2014, The Virginia Defender, published by Ana Edwards and Phil Wilayto, had been focused on the issue for years. Owing to that effort and those of other activists, in February the resistance to baseball-in-the-Bottom continued gathering. STYLE Weekly stayed on the stadium beat with a series of news stories and several Back Page OpEds.

Social media’s role was snowballing. Facebook pages dedicated to opposing Shockoe Stadium included: Referendum? Bring It On!Save the DiamondSay No to a Stadium in Shockoe BottomShockoe ResistanceA Stadium RVA Can Love!. Outdoor billboard signs went up. Yard signs were posted. Activist Farid Alan Schintzius headed up the signage approach.

In March and April the Citizens Referendum Group held meetings at the City Library to discuss crafting a strategy to put a baseball stadium referendum on the ballot. Although that ad hoc group’s ambitious petition-signing campaign didn’t collect enough signatures to force such a referendum, the connections the undertaking created could come into play again. Many names and addresses of registered voters were collected. (An archive of published notices and articles on this issue is here.)

Other petitions were circulated. Boycott strategies came also into play. Political gadfly Paul Goldman weighed in with an avalanche of opinion pieces for Although his message meandered over the year, Goldman was relentlessly hard-hitting with his many objections to pursuing the mayor's Shockoe Stadium concept.

In the wake of the notoriety of the Oscar-winning movie, “12 Years a Slave,” on March 25 the Hollywood Reporter weighed in: “Where the jail that held Solomon Northup once stood, a state-of-the-art baseball stadium may soon rise. That’s if the mayor of Richmond, Va., has his way.”

Post-turning point:

On Apr. 29, Preservation Virginia announced its Most Endangered Sites List for 2014, which included Shockoe Bottom. At this point three members of City Council were on record as being opposed to the mayor’s plan. They were: Parker Agelasto, Chris Hilbert and Reva Trammell.

The first of May brought news of an alternative stadium proposal, one for the Boulevard from a new developer. A week later Doug Wilder stuck his thumb in Jones’ eye by announcing his intention to revive his much-traveled slavery museum concept and locate it a couple of blocks from where the mayor wanted to put a similar museum.

On May 23, City Council members Charles Samuels and Jon Baliles put out a joint press release announcing their decision to let the sputtering Shockoe Stadium bandwagon pass them by. Joining with their three colleagues already prepared to vote against the mayor‘s plan, a new five-member majority was thus created. The bandwagon screeched to a sudden halt.

Four days later, Mayor Jones’ office announced his development plan for the Boulevard and the Bottom was being temporarily withdrawn from consideration. It was then anticipated the plan would be re-worked and introduced at a Council meeting before the summer was over.

Nonetheless, inside City Hall during June the stadium issue languished. In July Trammell suggested a referendum might be the best way to go. Her fellow Council members didn’t see it her way.

On August 3 a group of merry Richmonders paraded around The Diamond to mock the notion of demolishing it, only to build a replacement in the Bottom. As the accordion music swelled -- playing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" -- some paraders may have wondered, once again, what the point of the LovingRVA campaign had been in the first place.

Was it to persuade the public? Or perhaps certain members of City Council?

In September, without much in the way of an explanation, Byron Marshall resigned. In the absence of a freshened up presentation from the mayor's office Council went on with other business.


If rumors are to be taken seriously, it now seems one member of last year's five-member-majority may flip this year. Time will tell. Still, what the mayor and any potential flip-flopping politicians should take to heart is this plain truth:

The opposition that swelled up in 2014 won’t be difficult to reanimate. It hasn’t gone anywhere, even if some politicians and rainmakers twist all the arms they can reach. After years of this issue flapping in the breeze, most voters have their minds made up. More salesmanship isn't going to change those minds much.

Moreover, last year’s coalescence of factions created something bigger than the sum of its parts. It’s something that isn't likely to ever stand aside for that old ballpark bandwagon. Nor is it likely to forget flip-floppery. For 2015, one thing is a safe bet: Dwight Jones wants no more face-to-face meetings with sign-carrying students at City Hall.

-- 30 --

-- Photo of Dwight Jones from Photo of parade by WRIC Channel 8.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Je suis Rebus Charlie

But, of course!

It's not a matter of whether those cartoons in France were good art, or bad. Not whether they were clever commentary, or plain silly. Not whether they were overly offensive, or too provocative. It's about whether we've gotten so scared of bullies that we're afraid to laugh, or not afraid. 

Satire has always been dangerous. Rebus ain't scared.  

-- My art. Take it, or leave it.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Dangerous Cartoons

Note: This post is from 2006. In the spirit of Je suis Charlie, I'm re-posting it.


The meanderings of international affairs have at last strayed into my bailiwick, my natural field of expertise -- unreality.

Cartoons by sarcastic European artists, designed to ruffle feathers, have flushed out a shockingly angry response that seems to be feeding on itself. Peace-loving folks everywhere are bewildered, wondering how far this absurd momentum will take us. It's 2006, already, and adults are killing each other over cartoons. What’s next?
The Cartoon War:
"Ye gods and little fishes!" Rebus exclaimed. "Called up from the cartoon reserves at my age!"
Most Americans are probably surprised by riots over edgy art. Not me. There’s plenty of precedent for it. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve known since the third grade that a cartoon mocking a thin-skinned bully can start a fistfight.

As a kid, I was a self-appointed cartoon critic who adored Heckle and Jeckle. Loathed Chip ‘n’ Dale. Loved Pogo. Hated Peanuts. Dug salty Popeye. Cringed at wimpy Mickey Mouse. Cartoons were close to my heart. Growing up in Richmond I had the good fortune to see Fred O. Seibel’s elegant work on a regular basis, as he was the world class political cartoonist in residence at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Subsequently, at 17, my first published work was a caricature of Hubert Humphrey.

So my fascination with political art was stoked at an early age. Eventually, I came to admire renown political cartoonists such as Herbert Block (Herblock), Bill Mauldin, Thomas Nast, Honore Daumier and other masters of the genre. My favorites list is too long for this space, however, the father to all of them was Francisco de Goya. He stunned viewers in the early-1800s who had never seen war portrayed as horror, set in an un-glorious context.

Political art, by its very nature, has always stirred passions. It has galvanized movements and spawned flare-ups of violence aplenty. How Goya got away with his unprecedented depictions of blood-lust and lost souls during the French occupation of Spain baffles me. Take a look at some of it, you’ll see what I mean. Daumier was thrown in jail six months for mocking the king with his deft pen.

OK, so what’s my cartoonist’s take on the controversy raging over depictions of a certain Middle Eastern prophet, you-know-who? Like, whose side am I on?

Ha! The cartoonists, of course, but they are hardly blameless.

What about the big picture? Who is right, or wrong? The provocative publishers of the cartoons? Or those who call for restraint in that area? What about those laughing at, or those taking offense from, or those ignoring the infamous cartoons in question?

Well, it appears to me all sides have legitimate points worth considering. Since real consideration would call for actually listening to the other guy -- the rube, the infidel, the jackanapes -- that's not happening. Thus, the cauldron of ill humors bubbles across the pond, while cynical Americans awash in culture of casual rough talk and obnoxious information are baffled.

Yet, in America, we have our share of violent gangs and lathered up religious extremists, too. You can get killed in some neighborhoods for wearing the wrong color. So the first thing America ought to do is get off its high horse when viewing this curious story, one that may evolve into a larger story.

Should the European publishers simply back off? Is that still a possibility? They may be in a position called “zugswang” in the game of chess. The term means it is your turn and any move with any piece only makes matters worse.

Perhaps the determined publishers should get more creative, find a way to use levity to promote a better understanding of the beauty of both freedom of speech and good manners. Still, the cartoon publishers do have a valid point when they claim religious hardliners are trying to chill freedom of expression.

To go secular, America's never-ending brouhaha over flag-burning may shed some light on an aspect of truth. To me, the burning of Old Glory in protest of government policy is obviously an act of political speech, so our national custom allows for it. The Constitution still protects it. OK, burn the flag at your anti-war rally. If, on the other hand, you schlep it over to the American Legion Hall to set it ablaze in the parking lot, don’t ask me not to laugh if an old veteran rolls up his sleeves and makes you sorry you did it.

However, the offended vet is hardly justified to beat the rude flag-burner to death. Enough is enough. So, if the outraged Muslims want to hurl insults across borders at the publishing provocateurs, or organize an economic boycott, or even throw up a picket line somewhere, that’s fine. But killing people over insulting cartoons can’t be justified by serious people in a civilized world.

An impartial witness might ask: where are the moderate Muslim leaders, cool heads who could do much with this opportunity to demonstrate the difference between the troubling fringes of the vast Islamic world and its calm center? A sincere peacemaker might ask: why such universal virtues as “prudence” and “civility” seem lost to all sides in this noisy clash of cultures? A good detective might ask, who stands to gain from inciting more riots?

An artist at the drawing board might ask how to inform the viewer it’s supposed to be a picture of you-know-who without a caption? So is the problem really more with words than pictures? Otherwise, it could be a picture of Mr. Natural or a cat in ZZ Top.

Some say the cartoon riots have peaked and the controversy will all blow over fast. We’ll see, but I doubt that. I suspect this rhubarb has too many players still convinced they can profit from perpetuating, even exacerbating it.

Hopefully, after the cartoonists’ ink, mixed with the blood of the zealots and the unlucky bystanders, is hosed off the streets, the witnesses left standing will have developed a greater appreciation for tolerance. That, and the eternal value of a sense of humor.

-- 30 --

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Hank's Cadillac

Constructed of Indiana limestone, New Union Station opened for 
operation in 1919. It was later renamed Broad Street Station. 
The building now serves as the Science Museum of 
Virginia. The image is from the VCU Library’s 
Rarely Seen Richmond postcard collection.

The first train pulled out of the station at 1:07 p.m. on January 6, 1919. Designed by John Russell Pope, what was originally known as New Union Station was constructed on the site of what had been the Hermitage Country Club. A partnership of two railroad companies, the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad and the Atlantic Coast Line, built the station to satisfy the growing city’s needs. Later the station was renamed Broad Street Station and the Norfolk & Western line also came to use it.

Directly across the street, at 2501 West Broad Street, the William Byrd Hotel opened in 1925. The 12-story hotel catered to travelers heading north and south. At the other end of the block the Capitol Theater opened for business a couple of years later. It was the first movie theater in Richmond to be equipped for sound to screen talkies.

Boasting a first class train station and the new businesses that popped up close by, the area became a cosmopolitan neighborhood. After all, in those days residents of the Fan District lived within easy walking distance of direct access to the entire East Coast.

The William Byrd’s barber shop opened in 1927. Legendary barber Willie Carlton (1926-2013) began looking out of the barber shop’s windows at Davis Avenue in 1948.

Carlton bought the business in the 1950s. Recalling that for many years automobiles parked on the 800 block of Davis at a 45-degree angle facing the barber shop, Carlton chuckled as he described a visit by singer/songwriter Hank Williams (1923-53), who was asleep in a convertible when it was time to open the barber shop.

“Well, he was taking a little nap, out there in his Cadillac,” Carlton the storyteller recalled in a warm tone that signaled he could still see the picture he was describing.

Apparently, after the hard-living country music great finished sleeping off his road weariness, he got out of his snazzy ride and came inside for his haircut. Carlton says the price of a haircut in those days was 60 cents. Lunch in the hotel’s busy dining room cost about the same.

Although he sold the business in the mid-1990s, until May of 2013 Carlton continued to work at his same barber chair ... when he wasn't playing golf. He died two months later at the age of 87. 

During the station’s peak use, the years of World War II, an average of 57 trains passed through Broad Street Station on a daily basis. During the ensuing decades rapid outward growth of the city combined with the withering of America’s passenger rail system to change the character of the neighborhood.

In 1975 Broad Street Station was no longer the hub of metropolitan life it had been; the last passenger train left the station at 4:58 a.m., on November 15 of that year.

In 1977 the distinctive building’s second life as the Science Museum of Virginia began.

The photo of the clock on the face of the building is mine 
(circa 2004).