Teacher’s Political Paraphernalia Collection Is Unique to Classroom

When entering Tom Musselman’s classroom, anyone can tell it is far from ordinary. On the walls are tacked dozens of political posters; his desk is decorated end to end with political bumper stickers, some overlapping; directly behind it stands a life-size cardboard cutout of John Kerry.

Musselman is an AP U.S. History, AP U.S. Government, and Sociology teacher at Fredericksburg High School in Fredericksburg, Texas. But that’s only his day job. A political man himself, he is also the city mayor.

Although he wouldn’t describe himself as a collector, Musselman has accumulated political paraphernalia ever since he joined the school’s social studies department in 1995. Because he wishes not to present a bias toward one political party or another, Musselman displays local, state, and national signs from both the left and right.

POLITICAL PARAPHERNALIA ABOUNDS in Tom Musselman's classroom in Fredericksburg High School. This grouping of posters hangs directly behind his desk, and shows a mix of local and national campaign signage. The John Kerry cutout to the right is Musselman's personal favorite.

“I get my signs and bumper stickers from the political headquarters of the candidates,” Musselman said. “I have also accumulated some from various rallies I attended for state representatives.”

Adding a personal touch to his collection, signs from his own run for city councilman and later city mayor hang behind his desk. Musselman calls them “the most important.”

“However, the John Kerry cutout is one of my favorite pieces,” Musselman said. “I inherited it from my son who acquired it at a Kerry rally in 2004. It ended up in the backseat of my car when I moved him to Austin. I would like to find a similar one of George W. Bush.”

Other than the Kerry cutout, Musselman does not openly favor any signs.

“I of course have my personal favorites, but as mayor I try to be non-partisan. That is why I have signs in my classroom for educational purposes, but do not have any political bumper stickers on my car or other personal property.”

Aside from strictly signs and bumper stickers, Musselman has also lined the back wall of his room with newspaper headlines and clippings covering the disputed 2000 Bush-Gore election, in which controversy arose over vote counting. Nothing in the room lacks a political touch, and blank spaces are hard to locate.

Musselman has even inspired some of his students’ enthusiasm for political signage.

“A few years ago, a student in my AP U.S. History class made a poster reading “Musselman For Dictator,” which he would hold up during pep rallies,” Musselman said.

On a more serious note, however, Musselman feels the signs are valuable in the sense that they foster political awareness and encourage political participation among teens.

“Having these signs and stickers in my room sparks discussion, and talking gets students to reason about real issues happening day-to-day,” Musselman said.

 

 

Freight Train Graffiti Gets Political

Riding the rails: this three-part series of freight-car graffiti murals sees a lot of landscape—and spreads a message everywhere it travels.

BAILOUT - The first in a series of three boxcars with graffiti, this one expresses anger over the economy with the all-caps "Bailout" and the words "consolidating power" to the side.

The all-caps pieces spell out “BAILOUT,” “IMPEACH,” and “POVERTY,” but are accompanied by some instances of smaller type reading: “Secret Prisons,” “Liars, Killas, Cronies,” and “Consolidating Power.” The cartoon character Scrooge McDuck appears at the end of the “POVERTY” mural with bags of money at his feet, at once adding contrast and irony to the mural itself.

POVERTY - The boxcar with the word "poverty" on it features an ironic Scrooge McDuck with bags of money at his feet.

According to the Minnesota Independent, a small newspaper having run an article on the graffiti, the murals were done in 2009 and express outrage over the state of the economy. They were drawn by the Abe Lincoln Brigade, a politically-motivated crew of graffiti writers who target trains as mediums on which to express their protest over various current events.

IMPEACH - The final boxcar reads "Impeach," perhaps a solution toward improving the nation's economy, as viewed by the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

In fact, die-hard graffiti artists consider freight cars the ultimate canvas, right next to high-flying billboards, overpasses, and the sides of bridges. Trains provide a moving, never-ending art exhibition of talent and effort that never gets old and is impossible to equate with more traditional graffiti avenues. Unlike stationary works on buildings and walls, train murals are not familiar—they’re new to someone different every day. Furthermore, so long as artists are careful not to paint over railroad identification numbers or the name of the rail line, their art is likely to be left on the boxcar. Graffiti is expensive to remove, and rail companies simply can’t afford to have a boxcar out of service for any period of time.

But the best part of writing graffiti on freight trains? What you create always comes back.

Back In 1984

George Orwell would be proud. There are still people yearning after 1984.

In his futuristic book, 1984, written in the 1940’s following World War II, Orwell predicted a world overrun by probing governments and intrusive surveillance technology by the year 1984. Twenty-eight years following the passing of his magic year, there are still those hopefuls waiting for his prophecy to come to fruition.

Like whoever painted this lovely piece: “Feliz 1984” accompanied by a pair of binoculars. Talk about irony. For anyone who has read 1984, it’s not a happy picture. For starters, the novel is categorized as a dystopian novel (not to be confused with utopian) about a society in a state of perpetual warfare in which the people undergo incessant public surveillance and unrelenting mind control. In this society heavily influenced by technology and overwhelming propaganda, individuality and reason are crushed in favor of unwavering obedience to government, industry, and country.

BACK IN THE GOOD OLE DAYS - This artist advocates for a society similar to the one in George Orwell's dystopian novel, 1984.

Big Brother, the cult personality of The Party regime in this otherworldly society, instills fear in citizens with the slogan “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.” Hence the addition of binoculars to this piece of art. Perhaps the most depressing element of Orwell’s society, however, is the complete lack of citizen awareness. The government blatantly manipulates, and the people blindly follow—unknowingly entrenching themselves deeper into a web of brainwash. And those select few who do suspect foul play are either too frightened to act or suffer the consequences of speaking up.

In short, 1984 is anything but “feliz.” Nothing could be less happy, or farther from reality today.

The Truth About Freedom

This piece of political art, stamped on a metal surface (perhaps a post office drop-box) in Manchester, England, uses the famous phrase, “Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau to make a statement.

CONTRADICTION - This stamped message uses a famous quote from French political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau to send a message about the truth of freedom.

Rousseau, a French political ideologist of the 1700’s, originally coined the phrase while referring to governments at the time, which were organized under the divine-right theory. Under this structure, rulers were thought to have been appointed by God, and being so appointed, were given authority to do virtually anything. Rousseau was one of the first philosophers to openly disagree with this model.

With this rather cryptic phrase, Rousseau asserted that states at the time were in fact repressing the physical freedom that is the peoples’ birthright and were doing nothing to secure civil freedom for citizens. In other words, while man was free in theory, the number of social, political, and civil restrictions placed on him could not amount to true liberty.

The use of the phrase in modern society carries the exact same meaning: freedom isn’t really as free as it’s advertised.

Author of The Social Contract, Rousseau theorized about the most appropriate relationship between individuals and their government. Legitimate political authority, he suggests, can only be derived from a social contract agreed upon by all citizens for their mutual protection. Individuals assemble into a political society only after agreeing to abide by common rules and accept corresponding political duties to ensure a long-term effective government.

ON GOVERNMENT - Rousseau's highly influential book, The Social Contract, theorized about the best possible and most effective relationship between a government and its people.

Rousseau deems the collective group of citizens the “sovereign” and claims that it should be considered in many ways like an individual person. While each individual has a particular will that aims for his own best interest, the sovereign expresses the general will that aims for the common good. The sovereign only has authority over matters that are of public concern, but in this domain its authority is absolute.

Rousseau’s Social Contract outlined four basic premises:

1)     Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.

2)     The Sovereign, having no force other than the legislative power, acts only by means of the laws; and the laws being solely the authentic acts of the general will, the Sovereign cannot       act save when the people is assembled.

3)     Every law the people have not ratified in person is null and void — is, in fact, not a law.

4)     The legislative power belongs to the people, and can belong to it alone.

As is clearly evident from the premises, The Social Contract argued against the idea that monarchs were divinely empowered from God to rule and legislate. Rather, only the people, or the “sovereign,” are granted this all-powerful right. Rousseau’s ideas inspired political revolutions in Europe, particularly the French Revolution in France.

Furthermore, Rousseau’s social contract theory of government played an important historical role in developing the idea that political authority must derive from the consent of the governed, a principle regarded with the highest degree in American political ideology today.

STOP! In the Name of War…

It’s a sign.

This is clever art. Think of it. Think of the idea formulating in the back of the artist’s mind. Think of the him planning a perfectly-cast shadow. Think of him etching in the letters “W-A-R” in the same font and height as the word “STOP.” There’s just something intriguing about the process of creating this. And a note of jealousy too—like wishing you’d been the one to think of it.

STOP! IN THE NAME OF WAR - Using a shadow concept, this anonymous artist created a clever piece of political art with a strong message.

Some degree of respect deserves to be awarded to this graffiti artist. Rather than haphazardly scribbling “war” on the stop sign, an act which most assuredly would be considered common vandalism, he created a piece of art.

In effect, more than a sign.

Dreams Slashed, Dashed in Banksy Stencil

Banksy is probably one of the most obscure famous people in the world: very few know him, but thousands know “of him.” It’s remarkable, really, given the nature and popularity of his art.

This London piece is another powerful example of Banksy’s identity as an artist. Staying true to his characteristic themes—which often include greed, poverty, hypocrisy, despair, and alienation—Banksy depicts a freshly painted “Follow Your Dreams” inspirational message that is promptly crossed out with a big, fat, red “CANCELLED” sign. Reminiscent of “No Smoking” signs, Banksy’s stencil says it all: dreams not allowed. And the poor painter, looking rather stunned to be standing next to his altered art, is subjected to a harsh reality.

NO DREAMS ALLOWED - Another Banksy stencil graffiti, this one dashes the hopes of Brits without a worry in the world.

Imagine if dreams really could be dashed this easily. Like a class, flight, or CW television show, cancelled with the quick slash of a decision made by someone who cares not. Thankfully, in our world of ideals derived from the ever-inspiring American Dream, such a hope-shattering outlook is unlikely.

A British graffiti artist, political activist and painter, Banksy introduced himself to the art scene in the late 1980’s and has since progressed into a prominent artist, political activist, self-published author, and film director. His politically-charged works typically evoke an array of political and social themes, including anti-War, anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, anti-authoritarianism, anarchism, and nihilism.

Considered a common vandal by some and a closet genius by others, he is no doubt a talented artist. Despite his oftentimes controversial opinions and political views, Banksy produces overwhelmingly creative pieces and deserves to be recognized for the contributions he has made to both the political art and graffiti genres.

Conservative Con Men

Bubbly letters always look so innocent. They’re Comic-Sans-esque: reserved for cheesy party invitations and middle school notebook scribbles of “I heart Joey.”

But in this instance, the bubbly’s are carrying a lot more weight—much like what you see from Arial Bold or Impact.  The capitol “CON” and “MEN” are really packing the punch, but the masqueraded “S” is pulling its weight as well. Despite their rounded edges and soft lines, the letters in this piece are expressing a pointed message.

PLAY ON LETTERS - This New York political graffiti piece criticizes conservative government by playing up some letters and using symbols for others.

This cloud of judgment is hanging low over the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in New York City. Having attracted a lot of attention over the years, photos of the image are plastered all over Flickr, some of which date back to 2004 and others of which are as recent as 2011. That’s astonishing long for a piece of graffiti to remain untouched, especially in a city where the art runs rampant.

Evidently, no one has objected strongly enough to the art’s message to want to paint over it. The notion that conservative government is composed of a lot of lying con men whose primary concern is money is apparently well received in this neck of the woods. And while there may be some truth to the fiscally-conscious stereotype attributed to conservatives, the idea of republicans as a bunch of con men looking to dupe people over issues concerning money is obviously over-the-top.

But no matter the message, if nothing else, this piece is a great play on letters. It’s not often that they speak louder than words.