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Friday, May 31, 2013

I. M. a shrewd manipulator

We've all heard the Samuel Johnson quote, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." Basically, what this means is that if you associate yourself with a cause generally considered noble, you can use your supposed allegiance to that cause to all manner of selfish ends. The way this works is by discouraging opposition: if anyone opposes you in any way, it means they're opposing the noble cause.

There was no one more adept at this than the architect I.M. Pei. One theme I didn't fully explore in my earlier post about Pei (from July 2011) was what a manipulator Pei was. He has falsely wrapped himself in many flags, positioning his designs so that if you disagree with him, you're somehow against the spirit of whatever entity he was designing for at the time.

A few examples (from Wikipedia): 

Pei wanted his design for Dallas City Hall to "convey an image of the people."

Don't like it? Why do you dislike Texans so much? Are you one of those snobby "flyover" people? 

How this building conveys an image of the residents of Dallas is a mystery. (Was Pei was trying to convey the feeling of a cowboy falling off his horse?)

Pei felt that his design for the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong needed to reflect "the aspirations of the Chinese people."

Don't like Pei's design? Oh, so you don't think the Chinese people should be allowed to aspire? You racist!!

Pei claimed that a pyramid was "most compatible" with the other structures at the Louvre.

Don't like the design? Whatsamatter, you don't want to preserve the architectural integrity of the Louvre? Do you really hate French tradition that much? Are you saying the Louvre is a pile of crap?

Pei had in fact originally conceived the idea of a glass pyramid for the John F. Kennedy Library back in the 1960's, though the concept was shot down then. He recycled his idea for the Louvre. The structures it would be most compatible with are located in Giza, not Paris, but even there, it would be jarringly out of place.

As an architect, Pei is a modern artist: he tries to be different for the sake of being different, because he knows he will get more attention and fame that way. Being different is great if it represents an improvement of some sort. But to do it for its own sake, as so many fashion designers do during Fashion Week, is just the mark of a b.s. artist.

But if you wrap yourself in a flag, you can get away with that.


W O D said...

I enjoyed this article.

Reminds me of a line I have heard over the last few years "thats un-American/un-Canadian etc."

So if you do/say/feel something that someone doesn’t agree with you are against a whole country. This has popped into the vernacular in my country over the last few years

John Craig said...

W O D --
Thank you.

You're right, that' a good illustration of hiding behind the flag to keep people in line.