Honestly, for as much good as we found in 2018, “thanks but no thanks” could have been our rejoinder to this whole year of silent monuments and noisy reactionaries. We often treat arts and culture like a safe haven from the real world, but there were plenty of times when it pierced that bubble—and really, thank goodness, lest the whole enterprise become sheer escapism. These are but a few of the hard passes we threw down this year.
Let’s ease in with the merely silly before we get into the real dirty shit. This year, Durham’s Foster Street lost a Manbites Dog Theater, but it gained … an Urban Axes. Straight out of Portlandia—oops, make that Philadelphia—came the chain of bars where the idea is to get a little sudsy and then hurl actual freaking axes at targets (wooden ones, not your enemies at rival startups). Whatever people enjoy without bothering anyone is fine with us, even if we don’t get it. But it does feel like some kind of crossing-the-Rubicon moment for Durham that you can no longer spend money to support local theater on Foster, but you can to throw an ax.
When incel-in-chief Jordan B. Peterson came to DPAC, we had some questions for the venue about hosting the white-privilege-denying patriarchy apologist and gender cop. We never heard back, though we heard an awful lot from Peterson’s minions, who appear en masse whenever his name is uttered and repeat his talking points in hypnotized lockstep—rather shocking for such free thinkers. One tries to imagine complex motivations behind the reactionary elements resurging in this country, but it’s depressing to hear it’s all because Whitey McWhiteguy doesn’t know how to do a sex.
Unfortunately, one of the most painful controversies this year was homegrown and involved a trusted community institution. CAM Raleigh presented a solo exhibit of paintings by Margaret Bowland, a white person who paints pictures of black people that are always a least a little racially charged and are sometimes egregiously, bafflingly so. When Bowland starts adding cotton plants and watermelons to her paintings, it feels like trolling. Of course, we don’t know, because Bowland won’t really talk about how race functions in her work, and the museum failed to interrogate it with wall text or proximity to other charged works about race. Community outcry on Facebook spilled into tense public discussions at the museum, and in the end, no one—our citizens, the museum, the artist—felt seen or served.
We’re not exactly thanks but no thanksing Hamilton, as we don’t want the Triangle to be insulated, but we did air out some anguished thoughts about its sheep’s-clothing white supremacy. Chris Brown, on the other hand, we can officially do without. The serial abuser stopped in Raleigh to hold court at Walnut Creek Amphitheatre, which seats close to twenty-one thousand people. Remember all that hand-wringing about how the #MeToo movement would ruin the careers of men who had been accused of abusing women? Hahahaha!!!