PITTSBURGH - All over the
Deep South people tell us the same story: Were Dr Martin
Luther King alive, he would be totally involved against
the Iraq war. The eastern United States elicits another
puzzling question: What if Andy Warhol were alive? Dr
King was assassinated in April 1968. Warhol was nearly
assassinated three months later, but managed to survive
(he died in 1987). How would the man who transfigured
contemporary art and prophesied that in the future
everyone would have 15 minutes of fame react to the "war
on terror" and the war on Iraq?
Warhol's father - a Carpatho-Rusyn immigrant from
Eastern Europe - arrived in 1913 in what was at the time
"the work capital of the world". He worked in the
Pittsburgh mills and he provided a good education for
his children. Warhol studied painting and design at the
Carnegie Institute of Technology, today Carnegie Mellon
University, before moving to New York and practically
inventing pop art. With his paintings, drawings,
sculptures and movies, and especially using silkscreen
to make photographically derived paintings - a
technological breakthrough - Warhol blurred fine art and
pop, always juxtaposing upbeat icons of US consumerist
mania (he was an avid consumer himself, of everything)
with devastating images of death and disaster.
The 10-year-old The Warhol - an offspring of the
ultra-well-endowed Carnegie Museum system in Pittsburgh
- likes to bill itself as the world's most comprehensive
single-artist museum. As far as museums go, The Warhol
is alive and kickin' and even funky, showing not only
Warhol masterpieces such as Skull, Camouflage,
the Marilyns, the Last Supper series and a
reconstruction of the Silver Clouds installation,
but also promoting new artists, special exhibitions,
film, lectures, music and political debates.
a conversation with museum-goers has to revolve around
the theme of what Warhol would do today. His green Nixon
silkscreen might be a hint. Would he make pink cowboy
Bushes shooting from the hip like his silver Elvis?
Would he paint rows of hooded Abu Ghraib prisoners like
a successor to his Electric Chair? Would he make
a green silkscreened Osama bin Laden posing as a
biblical prophet? Would he support a Detroit techno,
politically aware remix of the Velvet
The Lord will praise your
vote History has always been crucial
to Pittsburgh - a stern town where the majority of
residents seem to be middle-aged or older and where
memories are as essential as aspirations. Although some
may still consider Warhol a freak, everybody was
enormously proud of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial.
Pittsburgh - in its 15 minutes of fame - used to
be the heart of the US steel industry. Now the only
steelworkers in town seem to be the players for the
Steelers football team. Steel suburbia, as in northern
Ohio, has been turned into ghost cities. Memories of
mill closures, mass exodus, deep recession are still
fresh. The municipality of Pittsburgh is essentially
broke - firing policemen and an avalanche of municipal
Bethlehem, in eastern Pennsylvania, is
not in a much better mood. There was a time when
Bethlehem Steel was "one of the greatest companies in
the world", as nostalgia-consumed residents keep
reminding us. In 1945, the company that was linked to
virtually every US warship in both World Wars and to the
Empire State Building employed more than 300,000 people.
Bethlehem Steel officially disappeared only six months
ago - leaving 100,000 pensioners and 13,000 people on
salary. A fraction of these were hired by ISG. The rest
- as in Ohio - feel they have been caught in a trap.
And then suddenly this week, people in
Pennsylvania who go to church started receiving an
e-mail with the Bush-Cheney logo. The re-election
campaign of President George W Bush is avidly trying to
recruit voters from 1,600 religious congregations in
Pennsylvania. If you go to church anywhere in the state,
you are supposed to get your 15 minutes of fame by
helping to organize a "friendly congregation" where
people meet all the time to sign up voters and spread
the Bush gospel.
There's a huge problem with
this strategy: the churches could lose their tax breaks.
The Internal Revenue Service forbids political
campaigning for or against any candidate at any
organization that receives tax breaks, and that includes
almost every church and religious group in the US.
For Barry Lynn, the president of Americans
United for Separation of Church and State, this is "an
incredibly bad merger of religion and politics". For the
Bush administration, through a spokesman, Steve Schmidt,
the e-mail is about "building the most sophisticated
grassroots presidential campaign in the country's
What's at stake is a lot of precious
votes. A fascinating National Survey of Religion and
Politics by the University of Akron, Ohio, demonstrates
that in the United States the more you go to church the
more you vote Republican. For example: in 2000, 68
percent of people who go to church more than once a
week, and 58 percent who go once a week voted Bush,
while 65 percent of those who never go to church voted
for Al Gore. The Karl Rove-directed Bush campaign is
working all holds barred on the religion gap - which is
nothing but the front line of the culture war that has
polarized US politics.
All across the South,
white, ultra-conservative evangelical churches represent
the key network for the Republicans - just as labor
unions in the industrial heartland did for the Democrats
in the 1930s. How upscale suburbia - the deciding
electoral factor - will react to a torrent of moralizing
across the country is still an open question.
Pennsylvania remains a key swing state.
by Warhol Warhol's work centered on the beauty
and glamour of youth and fame, the passing of time, and
the inevitability of death: almost the story of
Pittsburgh in a nutshell. For all of his image as a
frivolous celebrity-chaser, Warhol thought a lot about
the future. The future, as far as Pittsburgh is
concerned, and just as with Warhol, may be incarnated
again by a son of immigrants - not from Eastern Europe,
but from India.
Sridhar Seetharaman, 33, is
assistant professor of materials science and engineering
at Carnegie Mellon University. He has earned numerous
prestigious awards and he's married a Jewish-American.
With his 2004 National Science Foundation Career Award
and a US$600,000 grant, he "gets to use this money to
pay students to do whatever they are interested in - to
study phenomena related to iron and steelmaking". He
still believes in US steel. He prefers Vishnu to God.
And he'd have loved to see a Bush by Warhol.