Alaric tells the story behind his most recent Facebook profile picture:
“I have changed my profile picture many times since I came late to Facebook – a curios skeptic determined not to take it too seriously. I generally use self portraits, and when Facebook urges users to add rainbows or French flag filters to their profiles, I either ignored or signaled my approval of the cause in more personal ways. The most recent such occasion was the Bataclan shootings in Paris.
“My response to this event was partly intellectual, mostly personal. I spent a lot of time in Paris in the 1980s, I still have good friends there and I am a Francophile. More than that, I see Paris as one of the great achievements of post enlightenment Western culture. For all its many faults like the ring of deprived suburbs, the civilized urbanity of Parisienne life is rightly held to be a template of how life can be lived well. That the IS terrorists chose to attack a concert hall and restaurants just made my feeling more visceral; I have worked in many Paris venues as a sound engineer, I have eaten in Paris restaurants and promenaded along her streets in the evenings.
“I understand the west’s culpability in fermenting the crisis in the middle east; from France and Britain drawing lines on maps at Versailles, partitioning liberated Arab lands for their own gain, via the shambles of the British Palestine protectorate, French colonization of Syria, the fawning in front of Saudi oil wealth to the illegal invasion of Iraq… and much more. After the attack the Internet and terrestrial media went into their usual hand wringing overdrive, a populist glut of sentiment with little complex understanding. However what I found more depressing was the reaction of some on the left, many of whom I would call comrades. They patrolled the Internet looking for chances to post “what about Beirut, what about Baghdad, what about Syria!” missing the bigger picture in their desire to be righteous internationalists. Paris was and is close to us and we did feel it more deeply not because of race or religion but because we understood that it is our shared way of life that came under a focused attack; the right to play and dance to music of our choice, to live and love who we choose, the right to equality in law and custom for women and LGBTs, the right to eat together and live together.
“My small act of solidarity and defiance was to change my profile to Delacroix’s “July 28th Liberty leading the people”. I studied Art History at University so knew this painting and the date always appealed as it is also my birthday. At first I used the main figure of Liberty, slipping naked breasts past Facebook’s moral sensor. Later I cropped it to just the man with a shot gun and a cocked top hat. This is often thought to be Delacroix himself, a character I identify with as he is clearly a dandy in the midst of a revolution, mixing battered sartorial style with a steely expression and a loaded gun. A revered old friend was once asked what he would die for, he replied not for god, church, the queen, government or country but he would die to save The Enlightenment. That stuck with me although I would add that I’d die for my children as well but I’d want to do it dressed in style.”