Jeff Johnson's poster is provocative. It's upsetting. It's even, some might say, gruesome.
After all, it catalogues in raw numbers the human toll from the ongoing war in Iraq. It notes that, as of July 14, 2004, 1,014 soldiers from the U.S.-led coalition had been killed in combat. More strikingly, it then goes on to deconstruct the carnage in exhaustive physical detail: 3,042 pounds of brain matter, 380,422 teeth, 983 tons of flesh and bone, 131,180 fingers.
It's a strikingly simple and effective piece of propaganda. It's also, according to the Star Tribune, in "poor taste." At least that's why the newspaper claims it refused to run the poster as an advertisement for an upcoming show at the Frank Stone Gallery in northeast Minneapolis. In a letter to owner Frank Stone, the newspaper stated that the advertisement did not meet its "Standards of Good Taste."
Sally Nelson, the Strib's director of communications, declines to elaborate on what about the ad was offensive. "We're not going to get into the specifics and the details," she says. Nelson also declines to make available a copy of the newspaper's "Standards of Good Taste."
Stone takes issue with the notion that the poster is somehow not fit for print. "It's all true," he notes of the statistics. "There's no dirty words. I'm not soliciting sex from a minor or anything."
The flyer first appeared in a show of political posters that the gallery put up in February. Its updating for the Strib was intended both to serve as an advertisement for the space and to spark debate about the hostilities in Iraq. "I was disappointed because I really wanted people to see that poster and I wanted to have people come to our opening," says Stone, who was going to pay almost $5,000 for the ad space. (Private invoice for Frank Stone: Please mail your check to Paul Demko c/o City Pages, 401 Third St. N. #550, Mpls., MN, 55401.)
Apparently the Strib doesn't need his cash. And as for poor taste? If the newspaper's brass is really so concerned about offending their readers, why don't they do something about the insipid domestic yammering of columnist Kim Ode?