I have never thrown a punch with the exception of some brief, nearly forgettable boxing exercises. Fists up. Head down. I can never imagine a guy who took a hit thinking to himself later, “Now that my nose is broken I can clearly see how I might have over-stepped.” A punch is not a rational response, so doesn’t typically have rational results. An injured person is not necessarily contemplating a major life change.
I once had a friend in a bar tell me that he couldn’t get over a night where he punched his friend and broke his nose. The broken nose was a testament to the permanence of a single mistake. He was haunted. I don’t blame him at all. I’ve never broken a nose, but I have inflicted emotional damage.
The most confrontational thing about the Jesus punching bags of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat might just be my intense desire to take a good swing. I think that it might be the way that I imagine them gently swaying in the quiet white pools of gallery light. They are objects designed to take abuse. I can imagine the alarms going off after one hit. I can imagine being tackled to the ground by a security guard, but man, that one hit would be something. I don’t always have a desire to abuse art, but these, these are punching bags. Who doesn’t want to take a swing at Jesus?
The Da Vinci Christ with his face turned downward seems to have already taken a few hits from Basquiat with either a brush or a sharpie, a scribbled on bruise, a hand-drawn incision. Some bluish-purple and scrawled pink. The word judge is slashed on and copyrighted. They all look look more tired than they look like judges. All ten of them lined up and suspended from chains. All waiting to take all of the punches from everyone in the world. An imaginary guard speaks up,
“Please form a line. Everyone gets one good hit, then step aside for your neighbor. After all, we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, the same rule applies when punching the Christs. I don’t want to hear any complaints now. You’ll get your turn to sock a Jesus in the face. Everybody gets to hit a Christ, now don’t be stingy. We wouldn’t want things getting disorderly now.”
His face is turned downward. Is he even paying an ounce of attention?! Are you bored Jesus? Do you have other places to be? Lepers to heal? What kind of cowardly God would suffer the fists of the tiny, the brutal, the bored, and those who crave swift justice? What kind of God would suffer under those hot gallery spotlights, face waiting to receive another blow? Who just takes hits quietly? The weak take hits quietly.
All I want to do is swing fists, kick and scream myself hoarse at the stupid Jesus on a punching bag. I want the punching bag Jesuses to weep blood like those statues of Mary. I want them to weep pools of deep red blood onto the white gallery floor bathed in white light. We are all watching. We all have our iPhones out with the shutters set to silent. We want our proof. You had better make it count punching bag Jesus. Weep some goddamned blood for your audience.
I am an angry man. I just want a good clean hit in a fair fight Jesus. What are you going to do about it? Die? I’ve heard rumors of dying for love, but I’ve never seen a man do it. I can’t even die to a strongly held opinion for a good thirty seconds. I know who the bad guys are and they are not me. I decided. I just want a hit now. A good clean hit so that I can walk away proud. Then I will be alone. I guess that’s what real men do. Die alone haunted by broken noses and broken hearts. Alone and very, very angry.
I don’t really want the flexing masculine posture anymore. I am tired of angry. The clever is starting to wear off. It’s not fixing what I thought it would. Maybe I’m too old. Maybe I got bored of trying to convince everybody that everything is just fine. It’s not. It makes me tired. I turn my head to face downward.
I imagine another artist with a spray can, stenciling the face of Christ onto the side of a demolished tank. The face of Christ turned downward on the military grays facing away from a bent and rusting cannon. He looks tired but the weapon looks useless.
I don’t know what it means, but the contradictions bother me.
Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, “I am a warrior.” Joel 3:10