Feed the dog

Guillermo Habacuc Vargas says he wanted to make a statement about hypocrisy.

He paid two kids to capture a sick, starving dog on the streets of Managua and tied in up in an art gallery. Patrons were instructed not to give food or water to the dog, which died after a day on display.

Vargas’ point seems to have been that people cared about this dog when he was on display in the gallery but wouldn’t have cared about the same dog if he’d died on the street. This is true, but it’s hardly a startling insight (and sure as hell not worth killing a dog over). It’s not news that people are more concerned with suffering that takes place where they can see it. People are numb to suffering on the street; suffering in an art gallery still takes us by surprise. I think the much more instructive aspect of this exhibition is one Vargas doesn’t mention.

Nobody fed the dog.

I assume there were no armed guards on hand to force patrons and gallery employees not to feed it. All it would have taken was a dish and some food or water. People came and looked all day, and were outraged. But not one person fed the dog. Maybe people were afraid to defy even the weak authority of the artist and the gallery. Maybe it didn’t even occur to them to do so.

This is probably the closest thing to the Milgram Experiments you can do in an art gallery. Like the Milgram Experiments, it’s easy for us to comfort ourselves by thinking, “I wouldn’t have done that.” Statistically speaking, yes, there’s a good chance you would. There’s a good chance you would have obeyed the people in charge and not fed the dog. There’s a good chance I would have. It’s what we’re conditioned to do — to believe ourselves so helpless in the face of injustice that we actually become helpless, we obey, even when a way to remedy the injustice is right in front of our faces.

Feed the dog.

(ht: The Gin Blog)