Monday, July 1, 2013

A Paradigmaclastic View of Parisian Painters and other Popular Images

     Paris is the most romantic city in the world, right?  As you read those words, you probably tilted your head in some expression of agreement.  After all, Paris has even more of a reputation for romance as it does for insulting Americans on the street.  Not only that but—like it or not—you have become conditioned to be agreeable.
     Now enter your imagination.  In your mind’s eye, try to envision a painter in Paris.  You probably imagine this person as an artist.  He may be standing before an easel, holding a thin brush.
     Oh, no, I don’t mean Paris, France.  I mean Paris, Texas.  All of a sudden, the image you have of that painter changes.  His brush has suddenly gotten considerably wider.  Instead of looking like the painter on the left (below), he looks more like the painter on the right.  Ha!  You fooled yourself, didn't you?

     Ha!  You fooled yourself again.  The painter on the left (above) is Cathie Tyler, an artist and art teacher at Paris Junior College in Paris, Texas.  The one on the right is an anonymous house painter in Paris, France.

    Believe it or not, there really are black people living in Paris, France.  Many are of Algerian descent, as Algeria used to be part of France.  Many others are of Haitian descent.  (I’ll be you didn't know that the nineteenth century writer Alexandre Dumas, the author of The Three Musketeers and other popular novels, was a black man from Haiti.)  Yes, that's right.  As many times as you have seen pictures of Alexandre Dumas, you're just now noticing that he was black.  All previous times, you reinterpreted what your own eyes told you in order to fit your preconceived notions.
     Let’s look at some things you already knew but chose to ignore, so as to adjust widely known facts to suit widely practiced habits of thought.
     You already knew that many people in Paris have houses even if it hadn't occurred to you that the houses sometimes need to be painted.  The reality, however, doesn't fit the habitually practiced image of Parisian painters. 
     Elsewhere on this page you will see other photos of Paris painters.

    Don’t be too embarrassed over this failure to consider that even French houses sometimes require a coat of paint.  A Google search of “house painter” and “Paris, France” always yields images and articles about artists painting pictures of houses.  It wasn't until I keyed in, “peintre en bâtiment,” “Paris,” that I found anything on house painters in Paris, France.
     You also knew that there were black people living in Paris, but you ignored that fact because it didn't fit your customary image of Parisian artists being white.  What would you bet that Paris doesn't have any black artists?  You tricked yourself again, didn't you?
     More than 90% of the things we say and do arise from habit and habitual assumptions, and we rarely question those assumptions.  It’s not always because we’re lazy.  It’s just that we deal with so much information each day, that we come to rely on reference points and trigger words (such as Parisian painter) to help us to make decisions quickly.
     The trouble starts when our assumptions are mistaken.  The trouble worsens when authority figures acting the part of opinion molders use our assumptions against us.
     A perfect example of a trigger word being used against us is then-president George W. Bush’s remark, “Americans don’t torture.”   For Americans, American is a trigger word that causes us to have positive feelings.  It’s hard to think negatively about something that causes us to have positive feelings.
     Conspiracy theory is a well-known trigger.  Literally, it means only a belief that two or more people devised a secret plan to do something that was illegal.  As a trigger, it signals the listener that the topic lies outside acceptable discourse. 
     Consider that fact in the light of Josef Stalin’s remark about propaganda.  Though this isn't an exact quote, Stalin said something like, “The purpose of propaganda is not to convince people that it is true, but to define the parameters of acceptable discourse.” 
     Let’s add to that a quote from George Orwell, “Words are sometimes deliberately misused to defend the indefensible.”
     I’m not suggesting that we should try to do away with habitual thought patterns in our daily lives.  We need them to avoid information gridlock.  We should, however, make ourselves aware of how opinion molders use trigger words and popular images to circumvent—or even short circuit—our logical processes. 
     In short, we should spend more of our time questioning authority and thinking for ourselves. 

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