Thursday, May 15, 2008

Jasper Johns and the Flag Tattoo That Was the Wrong Color

Acclaimed artist Jasper Johns was born 78 years ago today. Devoted Daria fans might remember his name cropping up in "Speedtrapped," in the scene in which Jane is inking a flag "tattoo" on fellow inmate Sally. A police officer objects to the tattoo because the flag is "all the wrong colors." "It's an homage to Jasper Johns, an important late-twentieth century artist," Jane replies. "Besides, I don't have red."

If there was no red, then it is likely that the flag drawn on Sally's arm looked like the image at left: Jasper Johns' "Moratorium," created in 1969. The dot in the middle of the picture is there on purpose. If you stare at it for about half a minute, then look away at a white background, you will see an afterimage showing the American flag with its correct colors. Johns was fond of recreating the American flag, but usually he painted it as it actually appears, red, white and blue. "Moratorium" was an exception, and for a reason.

It's interesting that "Moratorium" appears on Daria, even obliquely, as it was controversial when it came out, produced by Johns for a poster for an October 1969 peace rally calling for a moratorium on the war in Vietnam. The painted flag's colors are completely the opposite of the real flag's colors, reflecting the view that America's involvement in Vietnam War was not what this country was all about. It's a strong political statement. Were the Daria writers aware of this? Was this a subtle part of the show's generally left-of-center politics? How much of this work's history is Jane supposed to be aware of? An interesting set of speculations.

It's also interesting that "Speedtrapped" shows nice cops who make Jane and Mystik Spiral work at a children's birthday party for their traffic sentence. The world of Fremont is a nice place. It's more the reflection of how we'd like America to be, and "Moratorium" is now a relic of another time. (Side note: Today is also Peace Officers Memorial Day in the U.S.)

Just some random thoughts on a small part of the show that kept catching my attention. Thanks for listening.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Damn fine observation and background, TAG. :-)