Tuesday morning, inside the dimly lit Anthropology Exhibit Gallery at USF, a potentially quiet controversy was discovered. Someone had scribbled vulgar messages across the glass covering of the McCulture exhibit in an apparent protest. But instead of simply erasing the message and moving on, gallery curator Brent Weisman decided to use the protest to his advantage.
“My first response was to clean it up,” he said. “Then I thought, wait a minute, let’s use this as a way to encourage some dialogue about the issue and to bring students into this issue in an unusual way.”
Weisman not only left the message as it was, but put a clipboard near the exhibit with a note and a pen, requesting a response from gallery visitors.
“My point is that I’m asking the viewers now coming in to look at the exhibit case and the message there, and compare it to the reaction of this person to the case, to see what they think,” Weisman said. “To me, it’s clear that the person who responded to this case didn’t read the exhibit and didn’t pay attention to what the message was in the exhibit.”
Six separate messages were written on the glass case, including one that read, “Why is an advertisement in this anthropology exhibit? ‘Multinationals’ are killing the very heart of what anthropologists are looking to understand in other cultures.”
The exhibit features information on how the introduction of McDonald’s is changing other cultures around the world, along with photos and objects representing the fast-food giant. It was installed during the spring of 2000 at the conclusion of the Museum Methods in Anthropology course. The course is held once every three years, with the final exhibits being showcased in the gallery for the time in between. The course will be offered in the spring of 2003. Weisman said this was the first time he had received any negative feedback about the exhibit.
The McCulture exhibit was made by Kristen Koenig, a student who has since graduated. She could not be reached for comment.
Lori Collins, a Ph.D. student in the anthropology department was in Koenig’s class and said she remembers having discussions about the impact of McDonald’s around the world.
“I do remember talking about how McDonald’s is a target in the class,” Collins said.
She added that the messages scribbled on the glass didn’t really apply to the McCulture exhibit, because, at least in terms of the globalization issue, the messages agreed with some of the information displayed in the case.
Nonetheless, Weisman’s decision to use the scribblings created a bit of a stir for the characteristically low-key gallery. Throughout the day, groups of people wandered into the gallery located in Room 111 of the Social Sciences building.
Sophomore Lauren Key showed no support for the messages, but agreed with Weisman’s motives.
“This guy sounds like he was force-fed something,” she said of the messages. “He’s probably some vegan who’s pissed off he can’t eat meat.”
But, she added, keeping the messages serves a purpose, as well.
“It seems almost like a challenge for him to show himself – to say, ‘What is your view?'” she said.
Senior Baxter Clark, a first time visitor to the gallery, was even less forgiving of the vandalist’s act.
“It’s a pretty ridiculous thing to do,” he said. “It’s very disgraceful to the school.”
Debbie Roberson, office manager for the anthropology department office explained that keeping the messages would invite more dialogue.
“I think we need to know why this was done,” she said.
And the clipboard requesting comments adds to the value, said Roberson.
“It’s definitely anthropological in nature,” she said. “It stimulates discussion.”
“It also presents itself as a learning experience, which is what the gallery is all about,” she said.
Still, Weisman said although he chose to make the protest a positive addition to the gallery, this does not justify the act.
“My opinion is that the person who did this is a coward,” he said. “It’s a cowardly act to deface somebody else’s work. My office is right across the hall; my door’s open. They can come see me; they can leave a comment. But to respond in this way … is cowardly and it’s ignorant.”
Roberson added that the gallery has a sign-in book with a space for comments, which would have been an appropriate space for the protester’s message.
Weisman said he’s not planning on contacting University Police to pursue the vandalism as a criminal act, though he would be interested in talking to the culprit one-on-one.
“I would hope that the person who did this would come seek me out,” he said. “We could talk about it. Clearly, they missed the point of the exhibit.”
Weisman said he would leave the clipboard and the messages in place for the next few days.
Associate Editor Khari Williams contributed to this report.