Saturday, October 2, 2010

Making a Huge Fuss over Nothing

The Andres Serrano photograph ("Piss Christ") that raised a hue and cry in 1987.

Some of the religious protestors in Loveland, who demand the lithograph by Chagoya be removed., despite the city attorney assuring it does not meet criteria for "public obscenity"

Leave it to the hardcore religious nitwits to get their panties in a snit, and themselves all worked up into a lather over nothing. One would think that, living in a still secular society, they'd at least finally realize they can't have everything their own way - and especially when it comes to what art or books one can be exposed to!

Last week, during The American Libraries Association "Banned Book Week" we got to see how many dozens of books have been oturight banned by religious or moralistic simpletons because the content doesn't meet their exact specifications. See also:

Some of the banned books that extremist would-be mind controllers have targeted include:

- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) by Mark Twain

-Andersonville (1955) by MacKinlay Kantor

- 'Catch 22' by Joseph Heller

- 'Catcher in the Rye' (1951) - by J.D. Salinger

- 'Fahrenheit 451' by Ray Bradbury (actually about burning books by future "firemen")

- 'Grapes of Wrath' (1939) by John Steinbeck

- Lord of the Flies - by William Golding

However, as energized as the book banning contingent gets, they're nothing compared to those who attack art and try to ensure no one can visit an art exhibit without being howled at by psychotic banshees. In 1987, in one of the most famous incidents, the religious fulminators became apoplectic over Andres Serrano's beautiful photograph "Piss Christ" - composed of a crucifix submerged in his own urine (See photo).

People lost it, many coming close to a nervous breakdown, merely because the photographer-artist had chosen to photograph his crucifix (I emphasize HIS) in a natural medium that would convey the softness and diffusion of features he desired to create. The usual words were flung out, like "blasphemous", and "sacrilegious" - despite the fact Serrano included not one derogatory or debasing comment about it. He simply designed an image and photographed it.

Most recently, in Loveland, Colorado - which now prides itself as a venue for flourishing modern and avant-garde art, people (mainly the religious crazies) are again in an uproar (see photo above) over a particular exhibit. This one is a 7 1/2" high, 90" wide lithograph entitled "The Misadventures of the Romantic Cannibals' by Enrique Chagoya of Stanford University. This lithograph is foldable, and is comprised of 12 separate panels which appear to show Christ receivng oral sex.

Despite outcries of "Smut, not art!" the lithograph is in no way comparable to anything remotely resembling porn or obscene imagery. Anything that is visible is more suggested than actually shown, thus the art viewer must make something of her own contribution and input with her own mind, vision. Does she want to see something lurid? Then, most likely she will! The fact that many other patrons perceive the work as beautiful discloses that people's reactions are more on a subjective level then objective.

Others perceive a complexity that can't be reduced to simple words. In the words of one patron, quoted in a piece in today's Denver Post ('Arguing Over Art'):

"It's very complex. I really can't describe simply what he's trying to get at".

But then, GOOD art often is open-ended, not neatly tied up like a gift package. People project their own psychological dynamics onto any controversial art, and this is what will lead to a general appreciation, or sense of violation and outrage - especially if the art seems to push the envelope (which by the way, good art should also do).

So, what is going on with those who want to shut down the exhibit? As I pointed out in a couple earlier blogs, I believe this desire for censorship is driven by a false morality that I call "moralism". Moralism is predicated in an unsubstantiated belief in a monotone, uniform human sensibility to all external stimuli, whether photos, art or books. In this way, moralism drives an imperative for conscious behavior modification...of OTHERS....and can thereby be exploited by any group that fancies it has political , economic or other leverage. (Which is why one also sees them coming out to mount boycotts against films they don't like - as we saw with 'The Golden Compass', and 'Angels and Demons', as well as 'The Last Temptation of Christ' - which portrayed Jesus in a sexual relationship with Mary Magdalen).

Apart from the public crazies who feel they've somehow been "offended"(despite the fact no one dragged them into the exhibit against their will), you can always bet some pol will jump on the moralistic bandwagon to try and snatch some brownie points with voters. It's a cheap way to try and garner cheap political capital. So, in Loveland, we have City Councilwoman Donna Rice yapping that she hopes "public pressure will get Chagoya's piece yanked" (Denver Post, ibid.) despite the fact that the city attorney has indicated his exhibit does not meet the criteria for public obscenity.

If the howling religious mobs do succeed in diluting the art exhibit, Loveland had better realize that it shot itself in the foot, as far as portraying itself as "an art lover's dream town" - by featuring diverse works through the years. Because if Chagoya's piece is ripped out, then Loveland becomes merely another backward, bigoted, Babbit-laden burg of which this country has gazillions.

Meanwhile, Loveland art aficionado and amateur painter Edwina Escheverria has the right idea when she opines:

"Sure there is going to be controversy. But we are a dynamic society and gosh, sometimes I think we need that!"

Not for the religious freaks, who prefer we all be like zombies, and inhabit their version of a zombie society - where the only book permitted is the Bible, and the only art is that which is religously approved. Preferably before hand!

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