Artist removes halo, adds blue ribbon

OK, there is this mural of all sorts of important people including Joe Paterno in downtown State College PA. The artist who painted the mural added a halo over Joe’s head after Paterno died earlier this year. Now that it has come out that Paterno was apparently aware that Sandusky was abusing kids and protected the molester (or, at very best, failed to act on the reports or allow others to intervene), the artist has painted the halo out again. He also added a blue ribbon to Paterno’s coat in the mural.*  I was not aware of this, but apparently a blue ribbon means you support the victims of child sexual abuse.

Artist Michael Pilato working on the mural

I don’t have a horse in this race, being uninterested in football, not a victim of sexual abuse** and not a Penn State fan, but, seriously, what the fuck?  Isn’t adding a blue ribbon to the image of Paterno kind of adding insult to injury since he helped keep Sandusky in a position where Sandusky could keep molesting kids? Isn’t that “accessory to the crime” or “conspiracy to conceal a crime” territory?


The whole colored ribbon thing starts to make me suspicious anyway since it seems to be a way of looking like you are doing something without doing something.  I mean, I guess I can stick a yellow ribbon on the back of my car and it means I want you to know I support the troops or pin a pink ribbon to my lapel and it means I want you to know I support breast cancer research — and maybe that’s helpful because it might spread awareness of the cause. But the cynical side of my nature thinks that it can also be a ‘heart on my sleeve’ gesture done primarily to show others that “I’m a swell person who cares about this cause so you should like me.”  

I think there ought to be a special color of ribbon for people who knew someone else was doing something really fucked up and they had the power to stop it but decided not to do anything about it. And that’s the color of ribbon that ought to be painted on the portrait of Paterno (and a good portion of the Catholic clergy) and other people who look the other way. 

It’s fine to have heroes, I guess, and if you love Penn State or “Paterno-ball,” then maybe you will want murals and statues and libraries named after him. But please don’t try to imply that he was ‘sympathetic to the cause’ of preventing child sex abuse by painting a blue ribbon on his lapel like some kind of a medal. He wasn’t. Paterno chose football and the school’s image and his friendship with Sandusky and the fact that he probably didn’t want to deal with a scandal over protecting the kids of people he didn’t know from sex abuse. He shouldn’t get to wear the blue ribbon.

* Apparently Sandusky used to be in the group portait and was painted out. Source.

**Yeah, I’m against it — who isn’t? I just can’t claim the cause has greater personal resonance for me than many of the other ways in which humans fuck one another over.


5 Comments on “Artist removes halo, adds blue ribbon”

  1. Fumblefail says:

    I think it's a problem when we lift up our fellow human beings to a level where they are “worshipped.” Then when they fail us, as in this case, many of us are saddened. We have to be careful of such things. I'm a Christian, so I come from that viewpoint on this, that nothing should be elevated even close to the level of God (I reference the halo in the picture). But the non-Christian can take away some truth on this as well – when we allow other human beings to have a place of such elevated importance, we ought not to be surprised when they fail, because we all fail in one way or another, this one was just incredibly egregious. Nuff said.

  2. RPaulson says:

    Aside from this guy's “art” being incredibly pedestrian, boring, and representational, the whole idea of adding and removing people from it is creepy. It's like something you would see in North Korea or Stalinist Russia. Or on an Etch-A-Sketch.

    I sent Pilato an email saying more or less the same thing (a little less bluntly though). I also told him, in the same vein, that painting over a mural doesn't change what happened. Sandusky, despicable POS that he is, was a part of Penn State history. Likewise, Joe Paterno was held up to be a saint or angel by the Penn State community until very recently. Painting over it like it didn't happen isn't going to change that, or make people forget. In fact, people shouldn't forget.

    So far, no response to my email. 🙂

  3. Maroon says:

    “He shouldn't get to wear the blue ribbon.”

    From what I gather from the article, the artist is aware of the irony. Apparently he knew Paterno had endorsed the cause before.

    “I'm a Christian, so I come from that viewpoint on this, that nothing should be elevated even close to the level of God (I reference the halo in the picture).”

    Interesting. I was raised Roman Catholic, so I wouldn't know about Christian views.

  4. Stephan Poag says:

    I thought it was unintentionally ironic; I didn't think the article made it clear that the artist had added the blue ribbon with ironic intent.

    Counting the seconds until someone logs in to tell me I don't really understand the concept of “irony.”

  5. Erin Smale says:

    I heard this story with head-shaking dismay, but if I could wax cynical dickhead for a moment, I felt some satisfaction that the man State College lionized for decades–essentially for being a top-notch football coach–was revealed to be just as ethically bankrupt as the scumbags he failed to expose.

    Why the rancor? Petty moral superiority and my dislike of football, I guess. Having visited State College many times, it always baffled me as to how Paterno had achieved deity-like status, or why the masses persisted in (and insisted on) venerating his many idols–Joe Pa keychains, postcards, coffee table books, calendars, bobbleheads, life-sized cardboard cutouts of the man himself.

    Even a non-practicing Christian like me knows better than to worship a football coach. But to your point, the whole blue ribbon thing is tantamount to willful ignorance of his role in the Sandusky affair. He may have donated millions to Penn State, but his legacy will forever by defined by his deliberate choice to put his team's ranking above the safety and dignity of his players. If State College wanted to atone for their sins, they'd do well to rename the library, topple the statue at the stadium, and erasing Joe Pa's criminal mug from that ridiculous mural.

    Thanks, Stephan – I'm glad to know I wasn't the only one offended by this nonsense.


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