The Perennial Influence of Keith Haring

Today, Google is celebrating the birthday of Keith Haring, the pop-artist and gay activist who died of AIDS in 1989. It is a reminder of just how deeply imbedded his influence is in our culture. Even if you don’t think you’re familiar with his work, you almost certainly are.

It is almost impossible to live in our country and not come in contact with his work. It has almost literally been everywhere: children’s shows, schools, even Christmas albums. While much of his work focused on universal social issues such as apartheid and the crack epidemic, but most especially AIDS awareness, he nevertheless promoted a promiscuous homosexual lifestyle. One of his most enduring works was a mural that covered all of the walls of a public restroom which depicted in graphic detail every homosexual act imaginable, up to and including orgies.

While his style is certainly accessible, and some of his work not without good messages, should we question why a man of such contradictory purposes is still, 20 years later, one of the most heavily commercialized artists in American society? He has become a martyr for the gay rights movement, yet he died at the hands of his own lifestyle. Why does our culture celebrate as a hero a man who facilitated his own demise?

I don’t wish to demonize Mr. Haring, but I do think it’s quite telling when a society glorifies an individual whose life became a sad illustration of the self-destructive nature of “sexual liberation.”

Perhaps his artwork is popular simply because people like it. I do. And I knew nothing about his personal life until your post.

Not every instance of a gay person being in the public eye – whether for art, or music, or foreign policy expertise – is an conspiratorial attempt to promote the “gay agenda.”

Perhaps his artwork is popular simply because people like it. I do. And I knew nothing about his personal life until your post.

Not every instance of a gay person being in the public eye – whether for art, or music, or foreign policy expertise – is an conspiratorial attempt to promote the “gay agenda.”


          :thumbsup:

As far as the influence of his death, most or at least many of us I think have experienced how when a friend dies by his own fault (suicide, an alcohol or drug-related death, etc.) our grief and love for the person makes us want to find some way around the ugly particulars of their death (rationalizing it, regarding it simply as a tragedy, etc.) in order to remember and grieve for the person the way we feel compelled to. And we easily become seriously angered at those who did not know the person as well if they say something negative about the cause of death.

To a lesser extent the same can happen when a celibrity dies, for those who were their greatest fans that is. I suspect this could be the case here. Rather than seeing his death from AIDS as a warning against a promiscuous homosexual lifestyle, his fans wish to see him as a hero and advocate who had something tragic happen to him.

I never made such a claim. There are many gay entertainers/artists whose work I enjoy, even if I don’t agree with their lifestyles: Oscar Wilde, Tchaikovsky… in more recent times Bradford Cox (musician), Alan Cumming (actor), Stephen Fry (actor).

And you will also note that I explicitly stated that I found his style pleasant and enjoy some of his art as well. However, it is simply a fact that he did promote a “gay agenda” (though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it conspiratorial) and he was lionized as a cultural hero after his death. After all, how many other artists have been so widely commemorated and co-opted?

My problem with the whole phenomenon is that alot of his work contributes to the “I’m okay, you’re okay” mentality of moral relativism, which is not limited to gay rights. And it has, in many ways, been co-opted to those movements. His cultural omnipresence is no accident. While a lot of his work is uplifting and universal, he still pushed some very disagreeable ideals which were not simply part of his “private life.” He made these views very public.

I think you are spot on. I didn’t mean for this post to come across, as it apparently did to some, as some kind of paranoid rant about the “gay agenda.” I was expressing more a concern for a society that fails to take the real lesson from his life.

It’s just mind boggling to me that I have heard so many people rant that he was a “champion of safe sex awareness” (i.e. using condoms) and yet he still ended up with AIDS. There’s a disconnect there. It just amazes me how people seem to forever miss the obvious.

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