Coming up Second Avenue in a taxi this morning, I was stuck behind a white garbage truck with the legend "SHRED-IT." A sign on the side of the truck stated, "The mission of SHRED-IT is to provide the finest shredding service. . . ," etc. A few minutes later I was reading the obituary of Playboy cartoon editor Michelle Ury in the New York Times which noted, "Lee Lorenz, the longtime cartoon editor of the New Yorker, recalled the famous poker parties for cartoonists Michelle held in her loft and the cartoonists’ Christmas parties at Playboy headquarters. He praised her ability to choose work to reflect Playboy’s mission."
This inspired a Larkinesque reverie in my noggin.
If I could choose the perfect mission
with the thrust and power of nuclear fission
it would surely be the mission(ary) position!
The most recent time, among the thousands of times that I’ve heard a museum type refer to his or her "mission," was at curator Michael FitzGerald’s press conference for his current "Picasso and American Art" show at the Whitney. Former Whit director David Ross was one of the first arties to jam "mission" into our ears. Now everybody does it. But what exactly does, or did, it mean (as overuse has the expected Orwellian effect of eliminating meaning)?
Perhaps, "mission" comes from NASA’s "mission control," and as museum directors are control freaks, the sky above is really the earth below. Going back further in American hegemony, one thinks of the Presbyterian missionaries who descended on China before the Boxer Rebellion. Perhaps museoexecs wish to turn us into cultural converts.
And "mission" as a clear-cut journey to an objective has also been diminished by the messy mission in Iraq.
Then there’s the onomatopoeia of the swishing sound, "misssssion," guaranteed to turn off the brain cells like a warm bath.
In each and every case, of course, the word is now a crock of overused BS, so may we suggest "purpose" or for the excessively sophisticated "raison d’etre"? Museum directors have nothing to lose but the masturbatory garbage shredding through their brains!
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).