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Long Story Short: Time for a clean sweep


illustration by JP Thimot


Witch hunt: a brief history

In October 2017, on Fox News, Congressman Chris Collins described the investigation into his stock dealings as a “witch hunt.” He said it again September 10 on WIVB TV.


That phrase has been invoked a lot lately, largely by men in power who have been accused of serious misbehavior. Long Story Short looked into the history of the term and into witches in general.


Here’s what we learned:

In Europe, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, tens of thousands of predominantly old women, social outcasts, and folk-healers are executed as witches.


The phrase “witch hunting” is coined in the seventeenth century as the activity of hunting for witches.


1692: The Salem Massachusetts witch trials begin, when three young girls start a mass hysteria by claiming to be harassed by spirits. Puritans execute nineteen people by hanging and one by legally pressing an accused man to death while attempting to compel him to make a plea. One hundred and fifty people are charged, mostly women, but the majority escape execution by pleading guilty and waiting out the hysteria in jail.  

1900: L. Frank Baum publishes The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a story where a witch is hunted by a little girl and three emotionally impaired friends.

1939: Baum’s book is made into a movie.

1950: Senator Joseph McCarthy starts the second “Red Scare,” by claiming that 205 communists are working in the State Department in the United States. McCarthyism, as it is now known, impacts the lives of countless people in and out of the government, and becomes metaphorically associated with the term witch hunt, now meaning to search out and persecute those (such as political opponents) holding unpopular or opposing views, especially with unfounded accusations.

1950: The Lavender Scare begins the same year as McCarthyism. Gay men and lesbians are considered security risks and communist sympathizers, leading to a call to remove them from state employment. Undersecretary of State John Peurifoy claims that the State Department allowed ninety-one homosexuals to resign. By 1953 the State Department reports that 425 employees were fired for allegations of homosexuality.

1955 Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem witch trials, The Crucible, is seen as an allegory for McCarthyism.


Witchy women

In 1958, Kim Novak demonstrates that witches can be sexy in the movie Bell, Book and Candle, and witches gain popularity.
1962: Sabrina the Teenage Witch, is an Archie Comic spinoff.
1964:  Bewitched, starring Elizabeth Montgomery is a hit TV show.
1993: Hocus Pocus (film) stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as three witches.  
1996 – 2003: Buffy the Vampire Slayer features Alyson Hannigan as a good witch.
1996, The Craft (film) stars Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell, and Rachel True as four angsty witches.
1998 – 2006: Charmed stars Holly Marie Combs, Alyssa Milano, and Shannon Doherty as three good witches.
2003, Wicked, a smash musical, casts Oz’s Wicked Witch as misunderstood.
2013: A poll determines that forty-six percent of Americans prefer witches to Congress.
2017: The Fashion Studies Journal says witch style is “in its ascendance,” and USA Today calls “witchy” fashion “2017’s most exciting trend.”


A dark turn

1999: Calls for Harry Potter books to be banned from schools lead to legal challenges on the grounds that witchcraft is a government-recognized religion and having the book in school libraries violates the separation of church and state.
2008: Birtherism is a witch hunt of sorts as Barack Obama is repeatedly accused of being born in Africa.
2010: Christine O’Donnell, a GOP candidate for US Senate in Delaware, is accused of actually being a witch. She loses the race.
2017: Donald Trump tweets about the Mueller investigation; “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” demonstrating, again, his failure to understand history.
2018: Real witch hunts continue today in Africa, the Pacific, Latin America, of Papua New Guinea, and some parts of the US.



Vontae Davis sets an example

The Buffalo Bills, their fans, and much of the sports world were aghast by Bills defensive back Vontae Davis’s decision to quit football—at half time—during a game in which he was playing. Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander was apoplectic: "Never have seen it ever. Pop Warner, high school, college, pros. Never heard of it. Never seen it. And it's just completely disrespectful to his teammates. He didn't say nothing to nobody. I found out going into the second half of the game. They said he's not coming out; he retired. That's it."


It's understandable that this was disturbing to the Bills; maybe even the nation. But think about it; here’s a guy surrounded by a failing team making blunder after blunder, accomplishing nothing, and getting nowhere. Martin Rogers of USA Today writes: “Davis felt it deep within, a sudden realization that he was done, washed up, not mentally ready for the challenge anymore.” Local weekly newspaper, The Public, says of Davis, “May we all be so strong.”


I say Davis sets a great example for others. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone was capable of realizing, deep within, that they are not up to the challenge of their job? And it would be a remarkable act of courage really, if they were able to look around and see that they are surrounded by others who are not doing their jobs either. Wouldn't it be downright virtuous if people like that knew when, for everyone’s sake, it was time to just clean out their locker and go home at halftime?


Halftime being November.



Off again, on again

Well no one can say they didn’t try. Republican strategists entertained every possible scenario for getting indicted Congressman Chris Collins off the November ballot. He wasn’t willing to move out of state (assuming he was even allowed to by the Feds). And any attempt to replace him through one of the other election law loopholes under consideration would certainly draw a lawsuit by Democrats that could complicate Collins’ legal woes, possibly resulting in the revocation of his bail on federal insider trading charges. So, on the advice of his lawyers, Collins reversed course, announcing that he will run for the twenty-seventh Congressional District after all.


Republicans were less than thrilled.


Wasted weaseling

Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas Langworthy says they were blindsided by Collins’ change of heart, since the Congressman originally said he was willing to cooperate with any harebrained scheme they came up with. And, after much consideration, they were just about to announce their harebrained scheme of choice this week!


Democrats wasted no time coming up with some silly bluster about how the people of Western New York wouldn’t allow Collins to pretend-run for a lower office in their town (which was the likely plan). “They weren’t going to fall for this bait and switch strategy…” said Democrats, referring to the Town of Eden, where Collins might have run for town clerk or dog catcher or something. Residents protested, with signs saying (among other things) “Collins is a swamp monster,” an apparent reference to Trump Swamp.  But had Collins not changed course, and Republicans executed their plan, there wasn’t much the people of Eden could have done.


Democrats are thrilled with this turn of events. It puts Nate McMurray, their candidate (i.e., the only person courageous (or crazy) enough to run against Collins before he was indicted) in the enviable position of facing someone who is under a very dark cloud. But being indicted doesn’t prevent someone from running for Congress. Candidates can even run—and serve—from prison. In 1798, Matthew Lyon ran for Congress from a Vermont prison, and won. Having your Congressman in prison when you elect him saves time later.


Whenever a challenge is raised to anyone elected to Congress, it’s up to the House to determine whether they are qualified to serve. Members of Congress can get the boot if they are deemed unsuitable. The House will likely be controlled by Democrats after the election, so Collins’ term, if elected, could be very short.


Initially, Collins wouldn’t say whether he intended to keep the job or resign if elected. Perpetual office hopeful Carl Paladino believes Collins should resign. Other recent aspirants to the Congressman’s seat want him to remain in office if he wins. On Wednesday, Collins announced that he would serve his term if elected, so he would be doing the work of the people in his spare time from fighting the charges against him.


Speaking of Paladino

Prior to Collins’ switcheroo, Republican leaders had been interviewing prospective candidates to replace him on the ballot. Carl Paladino was one of them. Last week before Collins’ change-of-heart announcement, the conservative New York Post wrote an editorial with the following headline: “Replace Chris Collins with anyone but Carl Paladino.” Anyone they say. ANYONE. The Post must have felt a desperate shiver run up its sensationalist spine to go out on a limb like that. The story called Paladino a “toxic embarrassment.” The Post (which Paladino sometimes quotes in his email screeds), went on to say, “The bomb-throwing Buffalo builder lost in a landslide in his 2010 run for Governor. This year’s GOP ticket already faces Democrats’ loud claims that Republican candidates are enablers of President Trump. They don’t need to also have to disavow a disgusting House candidate.” Ouch.



Indigo abridged

Indigo Art Gallery on Allen Street is marking its tenth year serving Buffalo’s art community, with an exhibition simply titled X. The show features sixty-two artists, including just about everyone who’s ever shown there, beginning with the late Catherine Parker, whose solo painting exhibition opened the gallery in 2008. 


It’s an exhibition that operates on two levels. Because gallerist Elisabeth Samuels has been involved with the local art community for decades, the show includes many familiar names, from emerging artists to established veterans (full disclosure; my own work is included). There’s a stunningly wide range of media, styles, and demographics represented in what amounts to a cross-section snapshot of the artistic output of Western New York. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the region’s artistic legacy, it’s consistently strong.


The second level the show operates on is as a celebration of a gallery, yes, but also of the woman who serves the community (including with galleries before Indigo) in the belief that “art matters, and we’re meant to surround ourselves with it.” X provides a rare opportunity to take in an entire decade of artistic expression filtered through the curatorial vision of an individual gallerist. I can’t think of another exhibition quite like it.


Indigo Art started at 74 Allen Street, and later moved to its current location at 47 Allen. As Samuels was contemplating the move, and the commitment that would come with it, we talked about the nature of commercial galleries in Buffalo—a historically tough art market—and about building an audience and customers. I made the case for a tightly focused artistic identity, a brand that people associate with the gallery name. Samuels rejected that idea, opting to cut a wide swath through the artistic landscape by exhibiting everything from the idiosyncratic modified tchotchkes of Alfonso Volo to the elegantly traditional ceramic pottery of Sally Danforth. Her identity, she decided, would be the gallery that represents a diversity of approaches.


Looking back, through the macro lens of X, I see she was right.


Organized chaos

You might expect an exhibition of 130 works packed into a modest sized space, to look something like a freshly-opened jigsaw puzzle strewn across a table, but Samuels organizes the pieces salon-style—sometimes visually, sometimes thematically—into a coherent art scene picture. Looking around, you spot a section of domicile-themed works that include artists’ Anne Muntges, Amy Greenan, Myles Calvert, and Catherine Linder Spencer. Elsewhere, there’s a “linen section” with embroidered works by the always droll Lilly Booth, next to similarly modified domestic articles by Kristina Siegel.


An abstract area has work by Ani Hoover, Felice Koenig, Ellen Steinfeld, Jozef Bajus, and others. A stunningly imaginative ice landscape (photograph) by Kathryn Vajda stands out, as does a bell jar-enclosed miniature architectural assemblage by Patrick Robideau. Senior artist Nancy Belfer’s dazzling collages continue to evolve. The late Jackie Felix is represented with two fine paintings. It’s tempting to go on naming names, but readers familiar with Buffalo art will get the idea. The show is a pleasure to peruse, whether your tastes lean toward edgy conceptual or reassuringly familiar art.


The ten-year celebration continues with a series of performances and events. Still ahead:
Sept 29: The Fate of Indigo Pilot Six, a surrealist play by Derick Evans and friends
October 5: First Friday and Silent Celebration, a performance by Kristina Siegel and Company
October 6: Music by Wax Mice


Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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