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Various religious people are upset today because Google put Cesar Chavez’s photo, on what would have been his 86th birthday, onto its iconic “Google Doodle.” They think that the Google should instead have honored Easter, about which I suppose they think that other people might otherwise have forgotten. (Bing gave us easter eggs in its intro photo, which under other circumstances — like if anyone really cared about what they did might have called forth a “taking the Jesus out of Easter” rant. For those who want to complain of not being properly honored, there’s generally always a way.)
Would Google’s thus honoring Jesus on its doodle have been an improvement? Part of OJB’s graphics arts team took a flier at “correcting” the situation, to see how it would look.
Nahhh, I don’t think so. Travel with me to the counterfactual world where Google had instead used something like the bottom image rather than top one and let’s consider the likely criticisms.
1. “Appropriating Jesus’s image for promotion of commerce is irreligious.” Yes, that argument could be made, especially given a website that one can use to find, among other things, porn and socialist events.
2. “Pushing a specific religion in people’s faces alienates other religious (and non-religious) traditions.” This may be the argument that the religious critics would expect to see people others making, which may one reason for the preemptive attack.
3. “Thou shalt not make graven images.” Huh? What? Where did you get that idea? From the Muslims? (Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. — Exodus 20:4-6. Note: this also prohibits printing photographs taken at gay weddings.)
4. “Hey, it’s Cesar Chavez’s 86th birthday? How come you don’t honor him?” Of course, this complaint would probably be viewed as churlish.
In our universe, though, Google honored Chavez today, leading to objections on the grounds of disrespect of religion, despite that Chavez himself was deeply religious and exemplified the best Christian tradition of fighting for the poor, overturning the table (grapes) from the temple (kitchen) — and, yes, healing the sick, mostly by fighting for better regulation of pesticides that are still today sprayed on farm workers, leading to their own forms of grisly death. Some of those objections seem to be grounded in complaints along the lines of:
1. “He was too political/divisive.” Of course, none of his contemporaries ever said that about Jesus.
2. “He was too pro-union.” I leave this one as an exercise for the reader.
3. (Generally not stated out loud): “He was brown.” Yeah — well, if it matters, so was Jesus. I could color-correct the photo if anyone really cares.
4. “He was a brutal Anti-American dictator.” Yes, judging from comments, some people are apparently mixing up Cesar Chavez with Hugo Chavez. Jesus wept.
One thing that Jesus and Chavez (arguably both Chavezes), as well as the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr., have in common is the only arguably legitimate argument (although personally I don’t buy it) that I could imagine against Google’s appropriation of Chavez’s image on this occasion, 20 years and 23 days before the anniversary of his death: that it denatures him. Look at that image: nice and clean, somber and almost beatific expression. You don’t really see the scrapper in Chavez, no more than you see the tenacious fighter in similar portrayals of King or the splendid strategist and tactician in Gandhi or Mandela. They all seem so nice, gentle, inoffensive tame.
But that denaturing of them is a mistake — as it is with many remembrances of Jesus. Nice is nice, and it has its place, but we should resist the straining of these powerful and fighting men through the cheesecloth of pious memory to the point where all that remains of them is flavorless curds.
Chavez was an exemplary fighter for justice — and, for many politicians, both a great ally and a frequent unyielding pain in the butt. That’s worth celebrating — but that can be a matter for future doodles on future birthdays. For today, I’m glad that Google rendered into Cesar what, today, was his — and I doubt that Jesus himself would mind.