Censoring the Presidential Jewels (sort of)

The New York Times Magazine cover story on Sunday focused on efforts by far-right members of the Texas State Board of Education to rewrite history in public school social studies textbooks. We found the magazine’s creative cover illustation to be especially ironic.

The painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware is perhaps one of the most famous depictions of an event from the American Revolution. But you would have a hard time finding an image of the painting — or one that hasn’t been digitally altered — in an American history book used in public schools today.

And why’s that? Publishers during the last adoption of social studies textbooks in Texas were worried about the location of Washington’s watch fob — which makes it appear (to some people, anyway) as though the man who became the nation’s first president crossed the Delaware River with his gonads hanging out. So editors, anxious about a heavily politicized State Board of Education always searching for a reason to reject their textbooks, pulled the image from their pages.

Click on the magazine’s cover image below for a larger version.

15 thoughts on “Censoring the Presidential Jewels (sort of)

  1. What in the world is Jesus doing on that boat? I do not ever recall that being there. This country, of course, is NOT and never has been (thank God) a Christian Nation. We are the only JudeoChristian country on the face of the earth. It’s disgusting what the far wrong is trying to do.

    I wish I could have been in Austin to make my feelings known, but that’s life. Good luck in overthrowing the idiots. What really scares me is how easy it was for those nuts to get where they are…when will the Muslims take a shot at making us look stupid in the eyes of the world?

  2. This is Emanuel Leutze’s famous 1851 painting of Washington and his men crossing the Delaware to attack the Hessians at Trenton, New Jersey. I would not be surprised to learn that Leutze painted the watch that way on purpose as an insider message or joke. Why?

    The Continental Army had reached a point of desperation after numerous losses to the British. The feeling was beginning to set in that the war was lost and out of reach. It was cold, snowy, and windy that night. Many of the soldiers had no shoes and were marching with blood-soaked rags on their feet in a desperate effort to keep them warm and prevent frostbite. It was truly a dark time—perhaps more so than Valley Forge. It was an army that was more in an avoid, defend, and elude mode than it was in an offensive fighting mode—sort of like a hot August football game in the 7th overtime period—not much fight left. Washington’s sudden decision to go into offensive mode with a beaten up army on Christmas Eve took gonads—big ones. If we were able to interview him, I would not be at all surprised to learn that Leutze painted that watch like that on purpose as a small message about the sheer nerve that Washington and his men were able to muster on that cold night. No doubt there was a lot of praying associated with this decision.

    But so what if Leutze did paint the watch that way on purpose? Are we going to put a fig leaf on Michelangelo’s statue of David or fit the Venus de Milo with a nice Bali underwire bra? Maybe the Song of Solomon should be deleted from the Bible? No. This is where the Religious Right and their proponents wax just plain stupid.

    I thought this commentary on Leutze’s painting was revealing about the Christian Neo-Fundamentalist mind and how it can spur them to righteous action. Check out this quote from Wikipedia:

    “At least three times in the 20th century, and as recently as 2002, American grade school administrators stepped in to alter textbook reproductions of the iconic painting because Washington’s watch fob was painted too close to his crotch for their comfort, possibly resembling male genitalia. In Georgia in 1999, for example, Muscogee County teachers’ aides painted out the timepiece by hand on 2,300 copies [of a textbook]. And in Cobb County, Georgia, the page with the offending reproduction was completely torn out.”

    Now, as a matter of fantasy, can you just picture this Muscogee County activity in 1999? It is August 17th, 1999, the evening before school starts. A small army of teacher’s aides, mostly prim and proper southern women, has assembled with khaki-colored paint and tiny little paint brushes in hand. A stack of 2, 300 textbooks reaches nearly to the ceiling in the large room where they have assembled. The aides are working against the clock like demons in a desperate attempt to paint out George Washington’s “faux gonads” on a classic 19th century historical painting in the books. All must be done before the stroke of midnight to protect the boys from making in-class jokes about ……………….what? A dangling pocket watch that their minds might construe as gonads. What? Have these boys never been to the restroom, or have they never seen themselves in a bath tub? They need a pocket watch to remind them of their own anatomy!!!!! And just why in the Sam Hill have the committed Christian Neo-Fundamentalist women of Georgia shown up for a frantic evening of wiping out construed male genitalia? What does that say? Calling Dr. Freud!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    This is so utterly stupid!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And the conservative block on the Texas SBOE wants to take the parents and children of Texas down this same sort of inane bunny trail. Wake up citizens of Texas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!! I just got through perusing the reader comments on the New York Times magazine article about the Texas SBOE’s antics. The comments came from readers at locations all over the United States—not just some elite intellectual pinheads who frequent Greenwich Village coffee shops. It appeared to me that the responses were on the order of 99% AGAINST the Texas SBOE and the whole notion of “Christian Nationalism.” I think it is very close to unanimous. The Texas SBOE, the Religious Right in Texas, and Texas itself are, statistically speaking, officially the LAUGHINGSTOCK of the entire nation.

    Convinced of their own righteousness and their personal immunity to error, these right wing radicals will try to comfort themselves with the Biblical notion that anyone who is against them somehow hated Jesus first before they disapproved of them and their actions. I would put it another way. Many of us believe steadfastly in Jesus and love him dearly, all the while being aware of our own humanity and the propensity of our humanity to error. We gladly break both our knees and bow down deeply with our noses to the soil before our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We believe steadfastly in Him and Him ONLY.

    We do not believe in the radical right members of the Texas SBOE. We do not believe in the dogma of the Religious Right. We do not believe in Christian Nationalism. We do not believe in the recent, man-made theology of Christian Neo-Fundamentalism. We do not believe in you. We do not trust in you. We shall never bow down to you. Never!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You are not GOD.

  4. Tom.

    They believe that Jesus was present in every “tight spot” in American history and that supernatural power made it work out just right in the end. As a Christian, I would like to think so too and do think so in some instances. Can I prove it? Nope. Neither can they. Therefore, it would not be wise or factual to teach one person’s or another person’s opinion about such matters as a fact of American history.

  5. They should of superimposed Don McLeroy’s head on George Washington. That could of driven the point much better.

  6. From the The Treaty of Tripoli, drafted under George Washington, signed by John Adams, and ratified unanimously by the US Senate: As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said …states never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

  7. Thomas Jefferson said:
    “Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state … See Moresupport of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society. We have solved, by fair experiment, the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries”. — Thomas Jefferson

  8. These folks have w-a-a-a-y-y-y too much time on their hands. Seems to me that if they have enough time to read dirt into famous paintings, they could do something useful with it instead. Are there no elderly or handicapped folks in their communities who could use help shoveling snow or shopping? Are there no homebound neighbors who would enjoy a friendly visitor bearing cookies? Are there no children who need tutoring?

  9. There is another work by Leutze painted around the same time, but less famous, titled “The Iconoclast.” Museum info below:

    “Emmanuel Leutze (1816-1868), The Iconoclast, 1847. Oil on canvas; 38″ x 32″. Private collection.

    Despite the large scale of many of his works, such as his famous Washington Crossing the Delaware (begun 1849), Emmanuel Leutze humanized history painting through his genre-like approach to events and his ability to create the effect of an eyewitness account. The Iconoclast shows an English Puritan reformer about to shatter the shrine at which his Catholic daughter has been praying. His angry expression and his powerful gestures of violence and control function as metaphors for the larger religious conflict that played out between Protestants and Catholics in English society. Always alert to links between his subject matter and contemporary political and social issues, Leutze’s dramatization of the shattering of familial bonds spoke to the tragedies that could be provoked by contemporary religious intolerance.”

  10. Youssarian:

    I cannot find your painting on the Internet with the information you provided. Could you provide a complete live link? The word “iconclast” is so commonly used in organizational names, publication names, reviews, etc. that all of that stuff comes up first on a search—leading to a needle in haystack exercise. I would like to see the painting. Thanks.

  11. Here’s the reason and a one solution provided by Dr. Promey:

    The painting is owned by Victoria Mansion in Portland, Maine. They hold copyright—-and can also provide an image. Here is their information:

    109 Danforth Street
    Portland, ME 04101-4504
    (207) 772-4841