All that nat­u­ral beauty made my eyes itch

Il­lus­tra­tor’s Sub­par Parks se­ries uses one-star on­line re­views of na­tional parks to un­der­score their glory

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - nstein­berg@sun­ | @NeilStein­berg

No­body will ever ask me to cre­ate a school cur­ricu­lum. But if they did, I would sug­gest just two es­sen­tial classes to help stu­dents nav­i­gate life.

Not home eco­nom­ics or shop. You can fig­ure out how to ham­mer or bake on your own. While I’ve had rea­son to use al­ge­bra since learn­ing it in sev­enth grade, I’ve never again used a band saw.

No, my two classes would be Deal­ing with De­ceit and Man­ag­ing Tox­i­c­ity. The first is so ob­vi­ous I’m sur­prised it isn’t al­ready taught. Lies in­fect much of our world. Not just in the mis­er­able nadir of Trump, but be­fore. Re­li­gion de­mands we ac­cept the most lu­di­crous un­truths with­out a flicker of doubt. His­tory en­cour­ages wild over­val­u­a­tion of our­selves and our ac­com­plish­ments. Com­merce puts us on a tread­mill, do­ing jobs we don’t like so we can buy crap we don’t need but are tricked into want­ing.

Yet we as­sume peo­ple are hon­est. Back in April, when Trump said the na­tion would open up by Easter, I was talk­ing to a neigh­bor who said, in essence, “Well, he must know some­thing, have some se­cret plan, or he wouldn’t say that.” I al­most screamed. Know­ing all we know, ed­u­cated peo­ple cling to a touch­ing, base­less faith in the pres­i­dent’s hon­esty. Our de­fault is still to au­to­mat­i­cally be­lieve any ran­dom stranger is telling the truth.

We have to fix that. “Is this per­son ly­ing?” should be our go-to re­ac­tion to just about any­thing. I’d have the class chant­ing it, de­clin­ing it like gram­mar: “Am I ly­ing? Are you ly­ing? Is he ly­ing? Are we ly­ing?”

And tox­i­c­ity. So­cial me­dia is a snake pit of mean, stupid peo­ple, in­flamed by cer­tainty, shielded by anonymity, glee­fully in­flict­ing dam­age. Maybe if we learned that in sec­ond grade, kids — and adults — wouldn’t suf­fer so much.

How do you man­age toxic peo­ple? How to ar­mor your­self against the vin­dic­tive­ness lurk­ing in ev­ery cor­ner of so­cial me­dia?

One way is to turn it into art. I no­ticed a se­ries called Sub­par Parks, where ac­tual on­es­tar re­views of U.S. Na­tional Parks are paired with gor­geous ren­di­tions of those trea­sures. No park es­capes dis­missal by some­body.

Rocky Moun­tain Na­tional Park? “Su­per un­im­pressed.”

Yosemite? “Trees block view and there are too many gray rocks.”

The Grand Canyon? “A hole. A very, very large hole.”

The se­ries is be­ing cre­ated — 52 parks down, 10 to go — by North Carolina il­lus­tra­tor Am­ber Share.

“I was tak­ing an on­line course last fall about cre­at­ing pas­sion projects by fel­low il­lus­tra­tor and let­ter­ing artist Lau­ren Hom,” said Share, who lives in Raleigh and is an avid hiker, “and de­cided I wanted my pas­sion project to in­volve il­lus­trat­ing all of the parks, but I wanted to find a way to make it unique and in­cor­po­rate my sense of hu­mor.”

The Na­tional Park Ser­vice has been putting out gor­geous posters for a cen­tury. How to com­pete with that?

“There are al­ready so many iconic park il­lus­tra­tions out there,” she said. “I felt like another set would just be white noise. I stum­bled upon a post on Red­dit that had rounded up a few one-star re­views, and it was kind of a light­ning bolt mo­ment.”

If you squint, you can al­most see who penned these pans. The sigh­ing, bored Goth teens. The cow-eyed, in­cu­ri­ous adults.

Peo­ple who work in the parks ap­pre­ci­ate Share’s work.

“I’ve heard from a lot of park rangers in par­tic­u­lar who get a huge kick out of it,” she said, “since they’re of­ten on the re­ceiv­ing end of neg­a­tive com­ments.”

Aren’t we all?

“The in­ter­net and the veil of anonymity that it pro­vides seems to give peo­ple li­cense to be re­ally cruel and for­get the hu­man be­ing on the other side of the screen,” said Share, who sells posters, cards and stick­ers of the se­ries. “I’ve learned that you can’t re­ally fo­cus on it or take it per­son­ally — that way lies mad­ness. And I hope Sub­par Parks can show peo­ple how to not only de­flect or ig­nore the cru­elty on­line, but to laugh at them too, and to laugh at that grumpy im­pulse to com­plain on the in­ter­net that ex­ists in all of us. If the best the planet has to of­fer can get a one-star re­view, you don’t have a chance of pleas­ing ev­ery­one. Just fo­cus on find­ing your peo­ple, and let go of the rest.”

Am­ber Share’s Sub­par Parks se­ries of il­lus­tra­tions — such as this one of the Grand Canyon — pairs ren­di­tions of U.S. Na­tional Parks with one-star on­line re­views of them. AM­BER SHARE IL­LUS­TRA­TIONS

Cooled lava, one hopes.

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