I love the Hardware Store dogs discussion and although I am not a huge fan of Internet conflicts, this was and is a fascinating one, it has grown and spread and reflected so many things that are compelling about our culture today. You have only to look at the tepid op-ed (ghettoized opinion) pages of our fading newspapers or the degradation of political discussion and journalism on cable news to see how bland and timid commentary in our society has become. I ran into the owner of these dogs and he was quite flabbergasted at the furor over the photo of his dogs waiting for him at the hardware store.
He takes them everywhere in his truck, but never when it's too hard and rarely in the summer. The idea that his much loved dogs would become poster children for abusive dog owners was a bit heart-breaking to him. He doesn't go online much, I told him to relax, people lose perspective sometimes.
The left talks to the left and shouts and the right and the right talks to the right and shouts at the left and this passes for discussion in our time and the compelling discussions about a free culture that Jefferson hoped for so passionately are very rare and rarely revealing.
The hardware store dog discussion has only deepened, drawing animal rights advocates, breeders, dog loves, journalists, photographers and artists. Several people have suggested I was too harsh on Anita, even though she called me "dangerous" and irresponsible, and she urged me to repair the "great damage" my photo caused by linking to hot-car-danger sites, it was okay, she was just worried about the safety of dogs, and that trumps just about everything else. I wondered this morning why this touched such a deep chord – it drew more comments and replies than I have ever received on any topic, and we've had some wild to-do's on the blog.
Some of my thoughts:
- We are all responsible for our words. I know I am more powerful and have a bigger platform than Anita, and I have no wish to pick on her. I ignore most messages I don't like, but this was one was important to me. I am responsible for my words and she is responsible for hers. Because she cares about dogs, she doesn't get immunity from reply. She has a right to her opinion, and so do I, especially on my own blog.
- My frustration with her and many people who identify themselves as animal rights activists is that they sometimes lose perspective, go too far, see everything in the world through a single prism. The fact that some people abuse animals doesn't mean that everyone does, or that every photo must pass a sensitivity screen to make sure no idiot anywhere does something foolish.
- Blogs are different than newspapers. One reason that blogs are thriving and newspapers are not is that blogs have drawn some of the best and most interesting and free thinkers in our culture. There are very few of those left on TV or newspapers. Good writers once flocked to journalism, then they largely abandoned it for publishing. Now publishing is fading and struggling and changing and many good writers have taken to blogs to shape and develop their own ideas and express themselves more freely than any newspaper columnist can. Papers have become tepid, and thus, largely irrelevant to many people. Blogs are increasingly popular and relevant, precisely because people like me don't have to run all of their thoughts through somebody else's filter. If Anita doesn't like my photos, she can start her own blog and publish her own. I don't wish to ever be intimidated into not publishing a photo I like because there are bad people in the world.
- Art is different than public service and journalism. My photos are not public services messages, they are not subject to the censorship of politically correct ideologues who only see their world in narrow and stringent terms – animal rights, the left, the right. I am not running for office or looking to mass market my ideas. That is corporate, not free thinking. A corporate website would have read Anita's message and killed it in a minute – why offend a customer or rouse people who call themselves animal lovers? That is why the issue is important. In our market-based society, strong ideas can be bad for business and the stockholders, not Thomas Jefferson, come first. The rule is to never offend, not to always inform or inspire. The TV networks love to have "left" and "right" commentators because they never have to reach any conclusions or offend anyone, they just cover their butts. Thank God for blogs.
One newspaper editor suggested that I caption photos like the hardware store so that people in warm climates understand that these dogs were cool. I will never caption my art, and I hope to never see captions on paintings in museums to explain that artists once liked to paint women with large breasts or show hunters impaling deer and rabbits. Newspapers have nearly choked to death on such narrow thinking, and reading the hundreds of comments, it was refreshing to see that many people are sick of ideologues stifling the free expression of images and ideas. I know I am.
- Not all animals are abused. The rescue culture and the animal world's focus on abuse is running away with itself. We can't only see animals through this narrow prism, it is only part of their story, not the whole story. Some animals need rescue, the vast majority do not. Dogs like the ones in the photograph are the luckiest animals on the planet, they are treated better and more lovingly and carefully than any animals in the world have ever been treated. If we sometimes need to be reminded that animals are abused – and we do- then we also need to take care to remember that most are not. My photos are not about what Anita likes, they are about what I like, and that is the measure of any artist and his or her work.
I liked that hundreds of people – including a good number who did not agree with me – took the trouble to comment. Only one or two got nasty, which is important. Lots of fascinating ideas and responses and values were reflected in this vigorous discussion.
One woman e-mailed me that she was leaving the blog because she only wanted to see photos of animals, not discussions. I wish her the best. I love being a writer, and I am glad my writing and photography is not only about cute animals and pretty flowers, although I do a lot of those. The highest calling of a writer is to do something that newspapers long ago stopped doing – get people thinking, and they are paying the ultimate price for it. Thanks for being here and being a part of this experiment which is, to me, what writing and journalism were meant to be about.