Caricature art and online bullying: We are never little in God’s sight

“Be still, and know that I am God;”

Psalm 46:10


Introduction

On Sunday, August 11, 2019, one of our four readings from holy Scripture was a portion of the Book of Genesis, chapter 15. Our associate priest, who is also the leader of our healing ministry, reflected on this reading in his sermon. The pertinent portion of scripture is as follows:

The Lord’s Covenant With Abram

15 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,[a]
    your very great reward.[b]

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit[c] my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring[d] be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Here, in Abram’s exchange with God, we get a sense of Abram’s intimate, temporal worries.

At the time when this occurred, Abram (who would later come to be called Abraham) was the leader of nomadic herdsman. The cumulation of his life’s efforts had been toward the wellbeing of his people. Having no child of his own, Abram feared that there would be no strong leader to take over for him- to care for and lead his people – after he was gone. Abram was facing his own mortality, realizing that his work and his mark on his world would end with him.

Today, many people who are involuntarily childless can understand Abram’s fears – his worry and his sorrow.

Like Abram, you and I worry – a lot.

Our lives are imperfect.

Our relationships are imperfect.

Our jobs are imperfect.

Our families are imperfect.

Our interactions with others are imperfect too. It is this subject which we will explore in this post.

At the end, I will return to the above Scripture reading, the message of the sermon from that Sunday, and its important application in our lives.


“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

1 Peter 5:7


Grotesque Art

Hearing the name “Leonardo da Vinci” (1452-1519) usually evokes within us the image of his masterpieces the “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Super.” [1] However, from the 1600’s-1800’s, Leonardo da Vinci was best known for his “Grotesques.” [2] As former director of the National Gallery (UK), Kenneth Clark, wrote in his book on da Vinci, “For three centuries they were [seen as] the most typical of his works.” [3]

“Grotesque Profile” by Leonardo da Vicni
Source: leonardoda-vinci.net

Grotesque art “was a term given to portraits where the face is distorted into an ugly form.” [4] Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing of five grotesque heads – “four taunting grotesques surrounding a dignified elderly man with a wreath of oak leaves around his head” – is a prime example of this genre of  “pre-humanism” art. [4]

“The extraordinary faces surrounding him have expressions of extreme emotions and extreme forms to match: the wide-open mouth of the man at the back, his head tilted back and his tonsils showing; the overshot jaw of the man at his left shoulder with his cruel-looking eyes; the man on the right with a pendulous lower lip, hooked nose and heavy eyelids; and the man behind him, looking grimly intent… the central figure seems to be ignoring his tormentors…” [5]

Five Grotesque Heads
Source: leonardodavinci.net

In da Vinci’s grotesques we find “an abandonment of reason, taking a pleasure in chaos, in the destruction of form and meaning.” [6]

Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) was also well-known for his grotesques. [7] In similar, yet far more subtle grotesque scene entitled “Christ Mocked,” Bosch depicted Jesus Christ surrounded by mockers, adorning a crown of thorns. With Christ Mocked, Bosch invites us to meditate upon – and learn from – Christ’s suffering in those final hours before his crucifixion.” [8]

“Christ Mocked” by Hieronymus Bosch
Source: National Gallery

Caricature Art

Over time, grotesque art morphed into an entirely different genre.

“While the artist probably meant them to represent an extreme facial form (not necessarily drawn for humour), by the 18th century grotesque drawings had been renamed caricatures.” [9]

Caricature Art as we know it today is best described as “a drawing of a real person which distorts or exaggerates certain features, but still retains a likeness: in other words an exaggerated piece of portrait art.” [10]

Often used to ridicule public figures such as politicians, for centuries caricature art has wielded substantial power, often transmitting “messages without the need for the written word.” [11] This proved especially important in centuries past when most citizens were illiterate. Examples of the artistic power of caricature art include the images of Napoleon Bonaparte sketched by British artist James Gillray (1756/1757-1818). To this day, we still envisioned Napoleon as being far shorter in stature than he stood.

Caricature by James Gillray
Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art (US)

When Caricatures Hurt

Not all caricatures are fun or humorous – especially, caricatures which are maliciously sketched of us, without our participation, by cutting words of others.

Have you ever felt as though you have been turned into a caricature of yourself – against your will – through the harmful words which others have used to describe you? Have you ever experienced the helplessness and agony that accompanied social abuses in which your reputation was falsely impugned? Have you ever earnestly yearned to cry out, “No! That’s not me! That’s not who I am!”

At some point(s) in our lives, here in this fallen world – especially in the oft cruel realm of social media – each of us has experienced the stinging hurt caused by others’ words.

For the victim of social cruelty, such abuse often produces feelings of powerlessness and horror as one’s personhood is, letter by letter and word by word, unflatteringly distorted into a caricature of one’s true image. When such abuse occurs via social media, it can be especially harmful, rendering the victim seemingly trapped, unable to escape or outrun the reaches of the tormenter’s clutches, as the abuser electronically penetrates the sanctuary of the victim’s home – the place he/she should feel safest.

The occurrence of social abuse online is increasing.

Source: Twitter

On Snapchat, for example, the victim is disadvantaged from the outset. Snapchat’s policy of deleting posts after a certain time period often leaves victims without a record of their abuse, while abusers are granted a “clean slate” to continue undeterred.

As explained at bullyingstatistics.org:

“When it comes to cyber bullying, statistics show most cases are taking place on popular social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. In 280 characters or less, teens can make hurtful and emotionally scarring comments about fellow schoolmates on Twitter. On Instagram, they may leave bullying and mean comments on photos including body shaming or fat shaming comments about a person’s picture featuring their body or highlighting their appearance. On Facebook, the messenger app makes it easy for kids to send cruel messages back and forth, create groups where teens can gang up on one another. On Snapchat, known for sending easy-to-delete photos, teens can pass around inappropriate photos of classmates or hurtful images that can fall under various forms of bullying harassment. While bullying statistics show overall bullying rates continue to decline in the United States, social media has made it easier than ever for teens to participate in this ugly trend. However, with social media sites, there are methods of recourse.” [12]

Although much of the research available on social media bullying focus on teens and children, each day more and more adults become victims of abuse online.

Unlike face-to-face interactions, social media interactions – with threads and limits on the number of characters users may use in posts and responses – can become so complicated and nonsensical that victims, responding to their accusers, are placed at a serious disadvantage. This inequality inherent in victim-abuser interactions on social media, which inherently favors the abuser, is worsened by users’ abilities to take screen shots of tweets. Screenshots are often religiously utilized by abusers as single screenshot of a victim’s post/response can be shared by the abuser free from the context a thread offers.

Therefore, the cumulative harassment perpetrated by the abuser is obfuscated, spread throughout any number of exchanges which are often not linked.  As such, any response(s) a victim may offer is only viewed in relation to a single aggressive post, rather than the accumulation of harmful posts.

“How long will you torment me and crush me with words?”

Job 19:2

Abuse on social media is further enabled by the ability of abusers to utilize the “tagging” feature. On Twitter, for example, although a victim may have blocked his/her abuser this does not prevent the abuser from “tagging” the victim’s handle in a “tweet.” This results in the victim receiving notifications from all who comment on the abuser’s original tweet, which often includes comments about the victim him/herself. The victim can’t see the abuser’s “tweet,” but must face numerous notifications from respondents.

 It is as if people are gossiping about the victim behind his/her back, except the gossip is sent directly to the victim’s notifications list. Once such gossip is sent to the victim’s notifications list, the victim is forced to read each participant’s hurtful comments knowing the abuser has chosen to steadfastly continue his/her pattern of malicious slander and targeted harassment, and knowing that fellow “Christians” are willing to accept the abuser’s grotesque caricature of the victim at face value  – a complicity which often leads to participation, further victimizing the abused.

This is bullying by proxy.

Consequently, such circumstances often prompt the victim of social media bullying to take protective measures, such as blocking the social media accounts which are operated by the by-proxy-participants of said online abuse. Ironically, as if characters in a tragic comedy, those same participants often appear woefully lacking in self-awareness, wholly perplexed at having been blocked by the victim.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.

Isaiah 58:9-10

“Grotesque Head” by Leonardo da Vinci

Source: Leonardoda-vinci.org

Tragically, the resulting trauma of online social abuse is further intensified when the abuser is from the victim’s own “identity group”. “Christian,” for example, is often intricately and inseparably woven into a Christian victim’s sense of self.

Appallingly, Christian-on-Christian harassment and chastisement is rampant on social media.

Christians who are socially victimized online by other Christians suffer tremendously from the weaponization of Holy Scriptures – used as sharpened swords against the victim’s very spirit – as well as from being ignominiously “cast out” of the group (“true” Christians); verbally cast out, the victim is often calumniated as a person who “doesn’t know who the real Jesus is” or who “was never one of us [a true believer],”  or even compared to Satan as “the accuser of the brethren”.

Letter by letter…

Word by word…

Baseless accusation after baseless accusation…

One stinging “tweet” after another…

The victim’s very identity is unjustly re-imaged into a devilish monster. The victim – against his/her will – is publicly mutilated, seemingly becoming a sinister, mutant creature separated from the body of Christ.

“Grotesque Head” by Leonardo da Vinci
Source: National Gallery Scotland

Worse still, because of the natural human instinct toward self-defense, it is often incredibly difficult for a victim to indefinitely refrain from responding to online abusers who unrepentantly and pathologically distort the victim’s identity into a Grotesque. By the time a victim publicly responds, he/she will have likely reached an emotional “limit.” Consequently, any response generated by the victim may appear unnecessarily harsh, vitriolic, or out of proportion. Other times, the victim will respond unkindly. Regardless, such responses counteractively provide further fodder – fueling the abuser’s insatiable appetite – and ultimately supply the abuser with a cloak of justification for the fiendish continuance of abuse.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”

Matthew 5:38-40


Behind the Venetian Mask

Bizarrely, some victims, while traversing the online world of social media, may unexpectedly discover – with great astonishment – that their name and identity have been fallaciously attached to any number of anonymous social media accounts; accounts with which the victim is not involved. To make matters worse, bystanders frequently perpetuate such falsehoods with absolute credulity, without ever inquiring about or requesting supporting evidence to support such outlandish claims.

Having experienced this myself I can attest to the pure, unadulterated bewilderment that such an experience brings.

It’s very, very strange… indeed.

Yet, while the victim of such peculiar, mindboggling, involuntary “identity reassignment by proxy” may reasonably feel as though his/her name has been wrongfully impugned, it is, in actuality, the abuser(s) who is the truly tormented one.

After all, any individual who continues to imagine that the victim’s identity lays hidden beneath every rock (behind every online pseudonym)… that is an individual truly in a state of perpetual torment.

“All his days the wicked man suffers torment, throughout the number of the years that are stored up for the tyrant.”

Job 15:20

Furthermore, quite often it is the tormented abuser(s) who is  hiding him/herself behind a metaphorical Venetian mask…

Famous Masks Of Venice, photograph by Monika
Source: Fine Art America

In use since antiquity, “Venetian masks have a long history of protecting their wearer’s identity during promiscuous or decadent activities. Made for centuries in Venice, these distinctive masks were formed from paper-mache and wildly decorated with fur, fabric, gems, or feathers. Eventually, Venetian masks re-emerged as the emblem of Carnevale (Venetian Carnival), a pageant and street fair celebrating hedonism.” [13]

In Venice, “the masks served an important social purpose of keeping every citizen on an equal playing field. Masked, a servant could be mistaken for a nobleman—or vice versa. State inquisitors and spies could question citizens without fear of their true identity being discovered… As a result of the concealment of identity, however, people naturally found themselves taking advantage of the situation…. Gambling went on all day and night in the streets and houses, even in convents. Women’s clothing became more revealing; homosexuality, while publicly condemned, was embraced by the populace. Even the nuns and monks of the clergy, bejeweled and dressed in the latest imported creations, wore masks and engaged in the same acts as the majority of their fellow citizens.” [14]

Whether or not the perpetrator of online social abuses conceals his or her identity as the Venetians once did, the abuser nevertheless masks his/her internal torment – insecurity, doubt, loneliness, confusion, insolvency, painful life circumstances, etc. – behind a fragile facade of superiority, fortified through the weaponization of words.

It is through the belittling of others that the abuser feels bigger, better.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

Though I have attempted to be as detailed as length will allow, the descriptions above are far from comprehensive. Therefore, to further provide you with important information on this subject, I have included the following links:


Conclusion: “Do not be afraid.”

Let us return to the reading from Genesis:

The Lord’s Covenant With Abram

15 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,[a]
    your very great reward.[b]

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit[c] my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring[d] be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Fortunately for us, it is in this exchange between God and Abram that we also get a sense of who our LORD is, of the character and nature of God.

*This knowledge of Him is of importance for those who have suffered or are currently suffering from social abuse

The words “Do not be afraid,” reoccur numerous times throughout Scripture. However, those words are usually spoken by an angel, such as when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary on the night of the Annunciation. The sight of celestial beings often struck fear into the viewers. This is not so in the Genesis account of God’s exchange with Abram.

When God spoke to Abram that day in the desert, Abram wasn’t fearful of a celestial angelic apparition. Abram was afraid of his context; he was afraid in his own life’s circumstances.

Abram was afraid of his situation.

As such, when the LORD spoke to Abram and said, “Do not be afraid,” God was referring to Abram’s temporal worries.

In this exchange, God shows us that he cares about us and values us, even if we are little in our own sight or in the sight of others.

God cares about that which we care about.

He cares about our safety and security.

He cares about our experiences on this earth.

We are never little in His sight.

Furthermore, God calls us to him, saying “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” (Matthew 11:28), and “call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you,” (Psalm 50:15).

It is important for victims of online abuse to remember that, while they may be powerless to prevent others from hating them, our Almighty LORD sees them and loves them, cares about their current context, their situations and worries, and will stand beside them until this troubled season passes into distant memory. As Abraham Lincoln said in 1859, “And this, too, shall pass away.”

For all those who are suffering – in any way – let us humbly pray:

“O merciful Father, who hast taught us in thy holy Word that thou dost not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men: Look with pity upon the sorrows of thy servant(s) for whom our prayers are offered. Remember him/her, O Lord, in mercy, nourish his/her  soul with patience, comfort him/her with a sense of thy goodness, lift up thy countenance upon him/her, and give him/her peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (1979 BCP)


Citations:

[1] (n.d.). Leonardo da Vinci, his Life and Artworks. Retrieved from https://www.leonardodavinci.net/

[2] Jones, J. (2002, December 4). Leonardo da Vinci: the divine and the grotesque. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2002/dec/04/art.artsfeatures

[3] Clark, K., Leonardo, & Kemp, M. (1993). Leonardo da Vinci. London: Penguin Books.

[4] (n.d.). Study of five grotesque heads – by Leonardo da Vinci. Retrieved from https://www.leonardodavinci.net/study-of-five-grotesque-heads.jsp

[5] Ibid. [4]

[6] Ibid. [2]

[7] (n.d.). Caricature Art. Retrieved from http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/caricature-art.htm

[8] Glover, M. (2011, October 23). Great Works: Christ Mocked (The Crowning with Thorns) 1490-1500 (73.5. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/great-works/great-works-christ-mocked-the-crowning-with-thorns-1490-1500-735-x-591cm-hieronymus-bosch-2289423.html

[9] Ibid. [7]

[10] Ibid. [7]

[11] Ibid. [7]

[12] (2017, November 21). Social Media Bullying. Retrieved from http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/social-media-bullying.html

[13] (n.d.). History of Venetian Masks. Retrieved from http://magicofvenezia.com/history-of-venetian-masks/

[14] Ibid. [13]

1 thought on “Caricature art and online bullying: We are never little in God’s sight Leave a comment

Leave a Reply to royalbutterfly8 Cancel reply