Letter: Rethink placement of disturbing window art

Graphic by Lori Deaton

As a father and small-business owner residing in West Asheville, I am writing to share a recent experience that left both my 8-year-old daughter and me deeply unsettled. While driving along Haywood Road, a piece of window art displayed at Orbit DVD, adjacent to the Westville Pub, caught our attention for its graphic and disturbing imagery.

The artwork depicted cartoon characters, recognizable as Popeye and Olive, engaging in a violent act of decapitation, holding down a struggling man against his will, with an onlooking baby reacting with apparent joy. Blood is spraying out.

I asked my daughter how it made her feel. She said, “Confused and sad.”

I understand and respect artistic freedom and expression; however, I have to ask what the intent is of putting this on public display in our community? Why would a business wish to proclaim death, terror and suffering — not to mention a baby’s joy at seeing someone getting their head cut off? What is our society turning into? If this is a political statement, it falls flat, and recognizable cartoons only serve to connect on a deeper level with our children.

Art has a powerful ability to influence and shape perceptions; it creates imprints in minds, particularly young, impressionable minds like my 8-year-old daughter’s. The decision to display such graphic content in a public storefront needs to be seriously evaluated by our community and its leaders.

I urge the business owner — along with our community and its leadership — to reconsider the placement of such artwork in a public space. It is my hope that together we can create an uplifting community environment where art empowers and inspires the best humanity has to offer, rather than the worst.

Thank you for considering my perspective.

— Jesah Segal

Editor’s note: Xpress reached out to Orbit DVD’s owner, Marc McCloud, but he declined to comment.


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12 thoughts on “Letter: Rethink placement of disturbing window art

  1. HB

    I also tried to distract my children from seeing this image every time we drive past on the way to and from school each day. A literally “R-rated” image that is being broadcast to the entire community.

  2. Tim

    Jesah seems unfamiliar with the inspiration for the picture (and only passingly familiar with Popeye. For the record, the man being murdered is Bluto and the baby is Sweetpea.)
    I cannot speak for the artist, but it looks like the mural is based on “Judith Slaying Holofernes,” a painting by the early Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi. The scene is from the Book of Judith in the Old Testament and has been depicted by many artists.
    The painting is notable for its portrayal of powerful women. It is thought to be a form of revenge for a rape Gentileschi suffered in 1611. It is a very important feminist work.
    “Art has a powerful ability to influence and shape perceptions; it creates imprints in minds, particularly young, impressionable minds…”
    I find it a shame that he missed a chance to talk to his daughter about history or art or the Renaissance or Baroque period or feminism or the bible. Even a discussion about just how incredibly violent cartoons used to be could have been edifying. 
    “What is our society turning into?” Well, we seem to be turning into a society where we learn very little about art, literature and history. And where as long as we’re uncomfortable, our own ignorance is no obstacle to a strong opinion.

    • NFB

      “What is our society turning into?” Well, we seem to be turning into a society where we learn very little about art, literature and history.”

      Which is why it is a shame that the owner of the store did not, when asked, take the opportunity to comment and inform those who did not understand this particular work and its origins.

    • Curious

      Now I’m curious to see this work! It would have been nice for the owner to explain its origin and meaning in a letter, along with an image.

  3. Mike Rains

    Thank you for the interesting art history, but I think the author has a valid concern and in particular with regards to children being exposed to this unnecessarily. My god, don’t we have enough violence in our society today?

  4. Grant Millin

    Fifteenth Century ‘Code Duello’ art covering acts of lawless revenge is the point of “Judith Slaying Holofernes”; a Biblical story about something that may have happened about 1500 years before Christ. Revising Gentileschi’s piece to turn Popeye characters, figures of supposed American innocence from the past, into violence pornography is just a sick distraction. It is real free speech; but this really about those of us bothering to take up intellectual time that could be directed to real ethics matters… and instead help make this store more popular for those who want to draw people into libertarian / libertine culture where no one really believes in anything beyond some form of vanity.

    Do the proponents of the ethics choice of [business name omitted] believe in Christ the Savior; the Son of God and therefore the Biblical God? Because this is in part about Biblical art recontextualized with the Popeye characters… and only the ‘insiders’ know that sub content Biblical reference as everyone goes into the desired PSYOPS mind [bleep] tizzy. The business reinforces its brand as a foundation of ‘Keep Asheville Weird’ and that’s a money-making way of using the First Amendment. Ignore this business and such examples of unethical, time-wasting ways of using our constitutional powers.

    What version of the feminism the majority of American women are working with on daily basis is about vigilantism? How can women, kids, and the rest of us get through life better with that Popeye violence pornography image here in Asheville?

    We can be citizens with WAY above average art, literature and history knowledge and know and describe the disethics game here.

    Coming up with an alternative American culture that is either Ultra Conservative or Ultra Progressive is the actual challenge.

    False equivocations happen every day is another point. As someone with a ton of art school and art experience; gratuitous use of the First Amendment to enrage and harm is not about ethical wielding of our constitutional power to self-govern.

    People being smart asses about a guy wanting his kid be okay makes insisting on ethical civilization code a good thing. Because the libertarians and libertines have no code the rest of us can use for public good.

  5. Voirdire

    this is a classic example of asheville hipster no brain-er syndrome …but their loyal clients there at Orbit DVD -you know, the cutting edgy types who are way way beyond the droll and ordinary- love it! ( …which should tell you something as well ;)

  6. Mickie

    Seems a little silly to be worked up about an evocative piece of art and not how many of our neighbors are unhoused and struggling. But hey living with your head up your rear end and your eyes and ears covered to the suffering of others is one way to live I suppose. Sorry you’re unable to have meaningful conversations with your 9 year old.

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