Ignorance never settles a question.
— Chinese fortune
I wanted so much from Civil Unrest in Cincinnati: Voices in Our Community.
The exhibit, hanging now through Oct. 21 at the Museum Center at Union Terminal, attempts to chronicle the history of riots, protests and civil unrest/disobedience in our (un)fair city.
As a historical document, it's a reasonable undertaking. As a potentially progressive tool of repair, however, it is sorely lacking. Can you say "dropped ball?"
Understandably, the whole thing was put together very quickly so as to be timely, as these are trying times.
But the curators should have taken a cue from our most recent race-based fiasco. It didn't happen overnight. Though it might have felt like shit hit the frying pan faster than you can "say apathy," it had been simmering long before Officer Stephen Roach shot and killed Timothy Thomas.
The exhibit's organizers, therefore, should have been more thoughtful.
They should have taken their time. They should have taken the risk to tell the whole story.
They should have departed from tactics used by The Cincinnati Enquirer — the exhibit's major sponsor, Big Brother and Oz-like Supreme Being — and thought the next thought instead of tying simply to turn out an exhibition like a daily newspaper: just (our) facts, ma'am.
What we have now in Civil Unrest in Cincinnati is an exhibit chock-full of information — nearly too much — that's debilitated by a lack of emotional heft. Further, it's downright skeletal in its inclusion of diverse opinion from the media or anyone else.
How can you chronicle something as far-reaching as civil disobedience, racial hostility and police misconduct without inviting all the players who've covered it?
The answer to this question goes beyond the obvious exclusion of CityBeat, though we are listed as an exhibition "media participant." I guess that's accurate, seeing how there's a single quote from a CityBeat story about April's unrest posted in the hall.
And what about The Cincinnati Herald? The city's only black-owned and -operated print media is also listed as a "media participant," but none of their papers are visible throughout the exhibit. The only paper visible — i.e., the sole source of news on the shooting, the unrest, the curfew and the aftermath — is the exhibit's sponsor, The Enquirer.
Where's all the noise from local radio talk shows? All the ranting that went out across airwaves is absent, making the small space in the basement exhibit eerily silent. (I won't even go into the fact that the exhibit is ghettoized by its mere placement in the cramped basement space.)
Perhaps the most moving aspect is the loop playing Marvin Gaye's classic "What's Going On?" It's like foreshadowing. Now it's a soundtrack.
The result is that Civil Unrest in Cincinnati comes off as more coddling and more handholding. As subliminal as its own Whispering Tunnel, the exhibit as a whole seems to be murmuring, "This is what we saw and this is how we went you to see it."
What about everyone else? What about writers and photographers from different news outlets who were in the trenches with protesters who were themselves sweating and fearing the sting of rubber bullets? What of the national and international media who descended on us? What of the March for Justice, the police crackdown on law-abiding protesters, the Pepsi Jammin' on Main cancellation, the Taste of Cincinnati boycott/stand-off?
Yeah, I wanted a lot from this exhibit.
I wanted to be challenged, moved, informed and enlightened. Instead, I left feeling like I was glad I hadn't paid to park. That would've been a waste of my money, which would've been yet another annoyance to pile on top of the steaming pile that was a waste of my time.
I will gladly concede, though, that this exhibit is the kind of work we should be doing. That someone had the bright idea to mount it is worth supporting.
But its ineffectiveness outweighs its good intention. If you get off on apathy and feeling comfortable in your cushioned, air-conditioned world and it helps you sleep better at night, then, by all means, go see it. If you want change, then throw down The Enquirer and have an honest conversation with someone different from you.
The purpose of all newspapers and all museum exhibits is to chronicle our times and leave a permanent record for generations to come. If that's the case, then chalk up Civil Unrest in Cincinnati to another attempt at revisionist history.
And it's yet another segment of history we'll have to spend precious years to come righting and re-writing.
As I left the Museum Center, there were hordes of noisy schoolchildren anxiously waiting to go into the Children's Museum. I hope someone someday tells them the rest of what was on display downstairs.