The R. Crumb Outrage At University of Richmond

by | Nov 7, 2009 | POLITICS

This week the University of Richmond’s campus newspaper, The Collegian, featured several articles and letters to the editor about R.

This week the University of Richmond’s campus newspaper, The Collegian, featured several articles and letters to the editor about R. Crumb’s recent appearance in Richmond as a guest of U of R.

While U of R is no stranger to conservative students or ideals this issue of The Collegian strikes me as particularly interesting because so many students have taken his work so far out of context or have misunderstood its purpose in general.

Several students, who did not attend the conversation, wrote letters to the paper based on comments and quotes taken out of context from friends and classmates.

Timothy Patterson, ’10, (and one time assistant in conservative Texas Senator Dan Patrick’s office) lambasted English professor Bertram Ashe for including Crumb’s book My Trouble with Women and the documentary, Crumb, on his syllabus as well as making Crumb’s appearance mandatory for students of his class, “Geeks and Social Misfits in Society.” He, however, did not seek out Dr. Ashe for comment or an explanation of these assignments.

Patterson also demanded an apology from The University of Richmond and the Modlin Center for Crumb’s appearance saying that his work violated the university’s code of conduct in regards to harassment. Then alluded that the presence of Crumb’s work on campus added to the “creation of a hostile or intimidating environment … that is likely to affect adversely an individual’s living conditions on campus,” including making “offensive jokes or unwelcome innuendos” which are violations of the UR code of conduct.

I have to say that I think this is censorship overkill. If the university were to take this code of conduct so literally then fraternity life as we know it would come to an end… and don’t try to tell me that the Greek system is simply a collection of misunderstood academic and philanthropic organization. I saw more than my fair share of bikini/Pimps and Hoes/sexy costume parties while I was an undergrad at UR hosted by fraternities and sororities.

Senior, Juliette Jeanfreau, wrote that although she believes “the university should foster the free exchange of ideas,” that paying Crumb to appear on behalf of the school counts as an endorsement of his more scandalous work. Jeanfreau wrote, “I feel strongly that we must also reject any justification of blackface or flippant depictions of rape as “art.””

iona rozeal brown (b. 1966) Blackface #69, 2004

I would strongly suggest Jeanfreau look further into the subject of both blackface and rape as themes of art. Crumb is not the first and certainly not the last to comment on these themes in his work. If we reject these themes, even in a flippant sense, we are rejecting the works of iona rozeal brown, Kara Walker, Judy Chicago, Artemisia Gentileschi and many other artists throughout history. There are many male artist whose work or lives touch on the themes of misogyny or violence towards women. If we become lost in political correctness and the censorship of honesty then well over half of the artists, musicians, writers and comedians that have ever existed would be considered inappropriate.

Furthermore I have to say that had these students attended the conversation, they would have been able to hear Crumb and moderator, Françoise Mouly, discuss the nature of these controversial drawings and even ask Mr. Crumb questions about his work in a question and answer period. They would have also heard Crumb discuss admiration for women for physical, intellectual and creative feats. They would have also been able to comment on Crumb’s quotes in context. Mostly I think these students missed a valuable opportunity to at least try understand the work of one of the most prolific and interesting artists of the last century.

I suggest you all read Dr. Bertram Ashe’s letter to the editor/open letter to Patterson. I had the privilege of studying with Ashe while at UR and I think his take on academic freedom and the importance of exploring controversial issues such as race and misogyny particularly involving R. Crumb’s work is spot on. Ashe eloquently comments on the importance of having difficult discussions like this in institutions of higher learning. I can personally attest to this having been a student in his Post-soul literature class in which race and gender were a frequent topic of discussion.

When I was in college at U of R many conservative students protested the performance of the Vagina Monologues in the same way they have protested Crumb’s appearance. Uh… even though it was a feminist production meant to draw attention to and raise money to stop genital mutilation, rape and other various forms of the oppression of women.

I consider myself a staunch feminist and anti-racist. I have a deep appreciation for the first amendment as well as honesty in art work. I appreciate Crumb’s work for both of those values. While it is more than a bit of an exaggeration that ‘all men hate and fear women’ or ‘all women have a rape fantasy’ (as Crumb mentioned at his appearance) the truth is that those sorts of dark things do exist inside of people. Not acknowledging things like this is why gender roles are so fucked up. As R. Crumb said at the event, “Life’s not all beer and Skittles.”

Crumb’s work is Art in the truest sense because it is well crafted, it takes you to dark places and makes you think. His work makes you look into yourself and into society, into religion and sexuality and race. It is honest and provocative and good or bad it makes you feel. For me those are the cornerstones on which “good art” is based.

I applaud R. Crumb for the honesty (however ugly it is) in his work. I applaud the University of Richmond for taking a risk on a controversial artist instead of playing it safe as they have done many times in the past. I applaud RVA Magazine for helping to bring this event into the public eye. Richmond City and U of R are fortunate to be privy to a discussion about Crumb’s work as he is often quite reclusive.

Lauren Vincelli
University of Richmond ’06
Staff Writer, RVA Magazine

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work:

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