Monday, June 14, 2010

The Industrial Arts -- Say What?!

I've been laboring in the pits, lo these many months, in a kind of single handed mortal combat against industrialists and the industrial powers.

It's been a thankless job in many ways, although a few of you have written in to thank me, but despite that it's also been tremendously rewarding. Really, I thought I knew it all when I first got started, but as it turned out I didn't know that much. I've been getting an education, that's for sure ... but more about that later.

Following me daily, as you have, you've been with me when I discovered certain terms, then discovered their prevalence in modern social discourse. It's been an eye-opener to hear the terms "Industrial Park," "Industrial Drive," and "Industrial Way," just to name a few. The common theme is the shameful word "Industrial" paired with something that is completely benign or good by itself. And yet I've learned, like discovering pornography the first time, this is the way of the world. It's a shame.

Now, even with all that, you still have to be prepared for what a new day might bring, what new assault there might be upon my sensibilities. Well, I heard another one today, right when I thought I had put the whole topic of the industrial section out of my mind for a few minutes, maybe an hour. Because it's really been something; this has been all I could think of, nosing around, tending to my viability, scouting out incriminating information about the industrial powers.

But today, there I was, being shown around by a guidance counselor at a university, all quite innocent, when my eye fell on a placard accompanying an historic rundown of the school. As it caught my eye, the word "Industrial" popped out -- I guess I'm simply trained at this point to see it -- and in terms of something I'd never heard before and would've never expected to see: "The Industrial Arts."

The Industrial Arts?! Is this what it has come to now, that even the arts and artists have been hijacked by the industrial powers? It's not enough that they've claimed a large section of real estate at the nasty edge of every town in the country. It's not enough that they've attached their shame to the names of streets, byways, gravel roads, trails, ways, and drives, even coupling the word with "Park," as referred to above. No, none of that is enough! Now they're taking over the arts! This I wasn't expecting, although I suppose it really is too much to ask to ask these clowns to leave something alone, something unsullied by their touch.

I felt immediately very dirty, with the university's dirty little secret exposed before me. The guidance counselor, intuitively sensing my disapproval, gave a nervous little chuckle and seemed like he was getting warm under the collar. He obviously wasn't expecting that placard to be there, on display for the general public, no more than I would expect my family to sit around the table at Thanksgiving and talk about shameful family history. We simply wouldn't ruin a family holiday with scandal. No family in its right mind would!

But instead of turning away, I looked it over. After all, I'm hardened to these things by now, even if, as I said, it came as something of a shock to me. But I let the term sink in, "The Industrial Arts." I felt like I had a piece of rotten fish on my tongue, or maybe a spoiled tomato. That's so nasty! How far we've fallen!

The guidance counselor wanted to get me away from the scene. He couldn't keep his composure with such a revelation before us. But I stood my ground, like one of the prophets of old bravely surveying the sin of the people of God; the prophet hates sin, but there's something of steel in his spine, something that's inured him to the reality of human nature. The prophet is man's ultimate realist. That's what I am.

So I looked over that placard, looking it up and down, taking it in, and seeing what they meant by "The Industrial Arts." As it turned out, it didn't have much of anything to do with what we associate with the terms "arts" and "artists." Instead, it referred to various occupations more or less of a hands-on nature, such as farming, wood shop, mechanics, sewing, herding, well-digging, making mortar, and so forth.

But seriously, why we would want to put a derogatory term on decent occupations like that is beyond me. I was a little mollified, although only a little, by the fact that the placard was referring to something from the distant past of the university. These days, it's probably accurate to say, we wouldn't be teaching those subjects in a university, so the old terminology is more irrelevant.

I agree we need to forgive the past, but that doesn't mean we have to dredge it up and put it on display for all to see today. I only regret my part in writing this post, thus putting it on display all over again. It's ironic. But I wanted to call attention to it -- seeing that my blog is influential and has a tremendous reach around the world (I've had a visitor even from the unheard of land of Mauritius) -- that we might dispense with such terminology today in a complete way.

Is it agreed? Can we get rid of the term "Industrial Arts?"

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