In honor of the quadrennial competitions commencing in China, I spent last Thursday night surrounded by imagery of the Olympics. I wasn't sitting at home wearing my "Beijing '08" ball cap, watching swimming time trials on Bright House Network's Mandarin-language channel. Instead, I was observing politically provocative artistic expression of the sort that's rare among today's apathetic youth. Would you believe that on the eve of the Olympic opening ceremonies, the local artists that took the most controversial stand against the corrosive policies of the Chinese government … were a gaggle of Girl Scouts?
When Ilana Grimes volunteered to lead her first-grader's Girl Scout troop, she figured it would be a one-year gig. Her daughter is now about to enter the ninth grade, and she and the five other members of Troop 1692 are still together — an achievement at an age when boys would seem a bigger draw than merit badges. Grimes professes to have had a lifelong interest in Africa, ever since "We Are the World" inspired her as a child to organize a homemade fundraising carnival. Pursuit of the Silver Award Project community awareness achievement appeared to be the perfect opportunity to expose her scouts to "what's happening beyond their backyard." Grimes asked the girls to do independent research on the ongoing genocide in Darfur and the role that Chinese arms-for-oil deals play in abetting the atrocities. After perusing Save Darfur (www.savedarfur.org) and other Internet sources, the girls returned to Grimes with strong opinions and a desire to express them through art.
The paintings that resulted are bold and confrontational, as befitting products of youthful passion. The compositions combine iconic symbols like the Olympic rings with pointed slogans ("Flame of Shame") and bloody paint splatters. The primitive techniques and unambiguous moral attitudes call to mind the kind of outsider art seen in Baltimore's American Visionary Art Museum. One might argue that they oversimplify complex ethnic and political issues, but that's beside the point; in a time when corporate-controlled networks are willing to minimize massacres rather than risk their share of the advertising-dollar windfall, it's refreshing to see anyone — especially members of the supposedly disaffected next generation — willing to take a stand.
It's doubly ironic that few people will witness their exhibition, thanks to an unexpected decision by a few of the most reliably liberal people in town. The art was presented at Dandelion Communitea Café for a single two-hour showing, but was originally supposed to remain on display through the end of August. According to Anna McCambridge, the art curator who helped hang the exhibit, Dandelion had initially agreed to the full run, but decided after viewing the finished works that they were too dark and confrontational for the café's peace-and-harmony image. Coming on the heels of Dandelion's conversion from casual counter service to a table-service system — resulting in the relocation of my favorite comfy couch — I only hope this doesn't mean the hippie-friendly hangout is forgetting its counterculture roots. (Nancy Flynn has since stepped in and offered her Wilfred Drive space to host the exhibit; details are not confirmed.)
While I wish I was as global-minded as these scouts in my childhood, as a middle-schooler I was more concerned with watching our newly acquired cable television. In the mid-'80s, I wasn't watching C-Span or CNN; it was all about Nickelodeon. Along with You Can't Do That on Television (Canadian sketch comedy + Alanis Morissette + green slime = genius!), my favorite was Double Dare, the gross-out game show hosted by Marc Summers that probably inspired my obsession with Takeshi's Castle. Double Dare begat other frantically physical contests like Legends of the Hidden Temple and GUTS, which gave needed work to employees of the Nickelodeon production facility at Universal Studios Florida. By the late '90s, those shows were history (though they continued to air as reruns), and Nickelodeon vacated its Orlando studio in 2005. Now they're back in town through Aug. 16 to film an attempted revival of the golden age of child-abusing physical challenges.
My Family's Got GUTS revives the former format, complete with an upgraded 3-D re-creation of the infamous Aggro Crag finale. I stopped by last week to watch an episode being taped in Universal's Soundstage 25. Two teams of two adults and two kids, all from Florida, battled each other in a series of sports-inspired contests. The biggest update (other than the high-def cameras and enormous LED video screens) is the new host. Ben Lyons, recent replacement for Roger Ebert on At the Movies and son of film critic Jeffrey Lyons, makes an unlikely ringmaster in khaki shorts and a pink button-down shirt. I found it amusing to watch his on-camera "extreme!!!" enthusiasm evaporate every time "cut" was called.
In my time there, I saw about 45 seconds of "vert ball," in which teens on bungee tethers bounced around while beaning each other with mini-soccer balls. TV production is the epitome of "hurry up and wait"; much like the military, it's an hour of boredom followed by a minute of chaos. Good thing host Mark Daniel was on hand to keep the studio audience engaged between takes with his high-energy humor. Auditions to compete are over, but if you have admission into Universal you can volunteer to watch the action. Just don't mistake the "guts" on display with the real intestinal fortitude showed by the Cadettes of Troop firstname.lastname@example.org