Wednesday, 13 January 2021

honoured guests

Through this 1982 tribute by artist Roger Brown (*1941 – †1997), known for his portrayal of society, entertainment and politics with bold and distinctive storyboards, we are reminded of the individual selfish acts of heroism when it came to saving passengers of Air Florida Flight 90 that crash-landed on the frozen Potomac on this day the same year as the picture was created in honour of Washington, DC Congressional Budget Office employee Lenny Skutnik, whom didn’t hesitate to dive into the icy waters to save Priscilla Tirado, representing one of the hundreds of brave bystanders whom intervened.
Two weeks later, Ronald Regan invited Skutnik to attend the State of the Union Address and sit in the presidential box with First Lady Nancy Reagan, with the president acknowledging his heroism as the embodiment of the American ideal. Since then, other members of the public attending the State of the Union or other similar joint sessions of Congress at the invitation of the president and so honoured have been referred to by the generic name of “Lenny Skutniks.” Before reality television set in with the game-showification of the government and bully-pulpit of incumbency, though previously not universally without contention or political statement, the guests were usually limited to one or two individuals worthy of recognition, and not a singled-out victim vilified whose problems were at least in part systemic to US policies and priorities in the first place. The other subject of Brown’s piece is anti-nuclear weapons activist Norman Mayer, who was shot by police while threatening to dynamite the Washington Monument on 9 December of the same year, two diametrically different events bookending 1982 in the capital, unless a serious dialogue be held on the topic of disarmament and achieving peace.