Once again, I have been amazed how ignorant and misplaced certain people’s “outrage” can be.
If you haven’t heard, The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery (one of my don’t-miss-when-you-are-in-DC museums) has bowed to the “outcry” from the Catholic League and Republican congressman John Boehner’s office over a short segment of a video installation by the deceased artist David Wojnarowicz (he died of AIDS at 37 in 1992) in its newest exhibit, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. In the video, for a total of 11 seconds, a small wooden crucifix is shown with ants crawling on it. These 11 seconds have been deemed “hate speech” by a handful of vociferous morons.
Hide/Seek is the first survey at a national museum to examine same-sex portraits and intimacy. Artists represented include contemporary names such as Andy Warhol and Annie Leibovitz as well as works from 19th-century artists including Thomas Eakins.
Announced yesterday, Smithsonian Director, Martin E. Sullivan, pulled Wojnarowicz’s entire piece from the exhibit and reasoned his decision by saying, "The decision wasn't caving in. We don't want to shy away from anything that is controversial, but we want to focus on the museum's and this show's strengths." Seriously, Mr. Sullivan? Succumbing to the call for censorship is caving in.
In this situation, I am as disgusted by the shortsightedness and ignorance of the ultra-conservatives behind the demand for censorship as much as I am disgusted by the spineless response of Sullivan. Museums are one of the last bastions of intellectual experimentation. If a smattering of offensive material initiates debate, I’m all for it. Without it, museum doors should be closed, locked and the collections never changed.
What I find entirely ironic is that the Catholic League and Boehner isolated an 11 second segment of a video that was part of an exhibit focused on same-sex portraits and intimacy. If I understand the Catholic League’s and Boehner supporter’s position regarding homosexuality correctly, I would think there would be an greater outcry over the exhibit in its entirety. Instead, they focus on an 11 second segment of a 4 minute video where a crucifix is shown covered in ants.
And… I thought we were beyond the “waste of tax payer’s money” argument. The reality is, Hide/Seek is funded by individual donors and foundations. The public funds used by the Smithsonian are for operational expenses, not the funding of specific exhibits. Boehner should know this; and I find it hard to believe Boehner can even keep a straight face when discussing the misuse of tax payer’s money.
Oh… by the way…. Hide/Seek has been open to the public since October 30. Did it really take some dimwit a month to become outraged? Com-on, man! Let’s get real.
To my personal amusement, what is resulting is a greater exposure of the intolerance of certain people and the weakness of others. I believe the real winner in this mess is the exhibit itself. Thanks to the censorship of the depiction of a crucifix, an intelligent examination and acceptance of same-sex relationships and sexual identity is brought to the forefront.