May 26, 2021
10. “What challenges are raised by the dissemination and/or communication of knowledge?”
Object 1: JD Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye
This novel by JD Salinger was published in 1951 and was controversial because of the references to prostitution, premarital sex and alcohol abuse. Due to its controversy, the novel was banned and challenged numerous times. However, it’s also been admired by many others as changing the course of post-WWII writing.
This novel is particularly interesting for this exhibition because it has been challenged – it involved a teacher losing his job in the 1960s in Oklahoma, and it’s been removed from book lists across the United States. Nevertheless, this novel has also been listed in top book lists for the twentieth century and inspired the 41st U.S. President calling it a “marvellous book”. This suggests that this novel has been interpreted differently through the decades, especially when it caught the media’s attention.
This novel raises the challenges that appear through the dissemination of knowledge, as there were several interpretations of what JD Salinger was trying to communicate to the readers.
This novel also enriches this exhibition because even though after a few members of the Washington School Board claimed that the book was part of an “overall communist plot” and was banned for several other reasons including the sexual references, blasphemy… it nonetheless remains the second most taught book in public schools in the United States. Thus, the knowledge communicated through The Catcher in the Rye exposes the challenges that may arise when a novel can be used as an educational tool while simultaneously some elements and themes can be seen as a threat to society.
Object 2 : Diego Velázquez’s painting The Rokeby Venus
This painting was created by Diego Velazquez between 1647-1651 and now displayed at The National Gallery. It’s the first nude oil painting from the back of a woman figure in history and therefore a significant part of the art history.
This painting is hence included in this exhibition as an example emphasizing how a historical painting led to controversies back then along with more recent controversies as it was slashed by a female activist whilst on display at the national gallery almost 300 years after Velazquez painted it. This indicates the similarities of the perception of art between 17th century and 21st century. This illustrates the subjective nature of art as a communicator of knowledge and how that may lead to further challenges surfacing because of the different ways it was received by the public at different points in history.
I have also included this painting in this exhibition because it emphasizes the challenges raised from the view of ‘beauty’ raised from a female activist. It is debatable up to this day as some people still view this art piece as a “paradigm of female beauty”1, and some simply view it as a work of art. This accentuates that through the communication of Velazquez’s painting beauty can be seen through different angles.
Object 3: The Rolling Stones’ song Brown Sugar
The song Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones was released in 1991 as part of their album ‘Sticky Fingers’. It is seen to use sexist and offensive language toward black women. This is also evident through the original title of the song which was ‘Black Pussy’, apart from the title that changed, the references to drugs, the misogyny, the racism and the sexism remained which then led people to call it a nasty and racist song.
This song makes us think whether it is acceptable for some songs to be racist or offensive just because it was written in a short amount of time, which was The Rolling Stones’ justification. I do believe that when touching on a sensitive topic the lyrics of the piece should be censored. In 1995 Mick Jagger, the lead singer admitted that his lyrics may have gone a bit too far, “I never would write that song now. I would probably censor myself… I can’t just write raw like that”. Thus, this song shows that there may be challenges when knowledge is communicated through song lyrics, as debate may arise on whether censorship should be encouraged for the protection of people or if this infringes free speech and limits the liberation and communication of people’s thoughts.
The song adds depth to the exhibition as it highlights or questions the significance of song writing as a medium of communication. It questions whether song lyrics may be seen as non- offensive if the purpose of communication is purely to entertain and the audience enjoys the melody and the music – detaching the song from its meaning, or if the explicit meaning of the words should be inherently perceived as offensive regardless of its musical purpose.