Art and Design | Censorship | David Wojnarowicz | Frank Rich

Frank Rich Bashes The Smithsonian Over Censorship

In a piece titled "Gay Bashing at the Smithsonian," Frank Rich writes about the institution's censorship of David Wojnarowicz' piece "A Fire in My Belly," which was quickly (and baffingly) yanked from an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery a few weeks ago:

Like many of its antecedents, the war over Wojnarowicz is a completely manufactured piece of theater. What triggered the abrupt uproar was an incendiary Nov. 29 post on a conservative Web site. The post was immediately and opportunistically seized upon by William Donohue, of the so-called Catholic League, a right-wing publicity mill with no official or financial connection to the Catholic Church.

W Donohue is best known for defending Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitism by declaring that “Hollywood is controlled by Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.” A perennial critic of all news media except Fox, he has also accused The Times of anti-Catholicism because it investigated the church pedophilia scandal. Donohue maintains the church doesn’t have a “pedophilia crisis” but a “homosexual crisis.” Such is the bully that the Smithsonian surrendered to without a fight.

Donohue’s tactic was to label the 11-second ants-and-crucifix sequence as “anti-Christian” hate speech. “The irony,” wrote the Washington Post art critic, Blake Gopnik, is that the video is merely a tepid variation on the centuries-old tradition of artists using images of Christ, many of them “hideously grisly,” to speak of mankind’s suffering. Those images are staples of all museums — even in Washington, where gory 17th-century sculptures of Christ were featured in a recent show of Spanish sacred art at the National Gallery.

But of course Donohue was just using his “religious” objections as a perfunctory cover for the homophobia actually driving his complaint. The truth popped out of the closet as Donohue expanded his indictment to “pornographic images of gay men.” His Republican Congressional allies got into the act. Eric Cantor called for the entire exhibit to be shut down and threatened to maim the Smithsonian’s taxpayer funding come January. (The exhibit was entirely funded by private donors, but such facts don’t matter in culture wars.) Jack Kingston, of the House Appropriations Committee, rattled off his own list of exaggerated gay outrages in “Hide/Seek,” from “Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts” to “naked brothers kissing.”

It took only hours after Donohue’s initial battle cry for the video to be yanked. “The decision wasn’t caving in,” the museum’s director, Martin E. Sullivan, told reporters. Of course it was. The Smithsonian, in its own official statement, rationalized its censorship by saying that Wojnarowicz’s video “generated a strong response from the public.” That’s nonsense. There wasn’t a strong response from the public — there was no response. As the museum’s own publicist told the press, the National Portrait Gallery hadn’t received a single complaint about “A Fire in the Belly” from the exhibit’s opening day, Oct. 30, until a full month later, when a “public” that hadn’t seen the exhibit was mobilized by Donohue to blast the museum by phone and e-mail.

In response to th Smithsonian's outrageous censhorship, several museums and galleries across the United States have decided to showcase Wojnarowicz' video, including as the New Museum in NYC and CB1 Gallery in Los Angeles.

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  1. Frank Rich deserves to be commended for his accurate review of the Smithsonian "controversy". It was mere theater exploited by Religious "leaders" (read - zealots) to propel their stupid uninformed masses to outrage - over an exhibit none had seen and knew nothing about.

    Yeah, every time we see those religious cretins claim anything to be "anti-Christian" it's followed by another spate of anti-gay lies.

    Posted by: Jonathan | Dec 12, 2010 1:36:11 PM


  2. Frank Rich deserves to be commended for his accurate review of the Smithsonian "controversy". It was mere theater exploited by Religious "leaders" (read - zealots) to propel their stupid uninformed masses to outrage - over an exhibit none had seen and knew nothing about.

    Yeah, every time we see those religious cretins claim anything to be "anti-Christian" it's followed by another spate of anti-gay lies.

    Posted by: Jonathan | Dec 12, 2010 1:36:11 PM


  3. Frank Rich deserves to be commended for his accurate review of the Smithsonian "controversy". It was mere theater exploited by Religious "leaders" (read - zealots) to propel their stupid uninformed masses to outrage - over an exhibit none had seen and knew nothing about.

    Yeah, every time we see those religious cretins claim anything to be "anti-Christian" it's followed by another spate of anti-gay lies.

    Posted by: Jonathan | Dec 12, 2010 1:36:11 PM


  4. Frank Rich deserves to be commended for his accurate review of the Smithsonian "controversy". It was mere theater exploited by Religious "leaders" (read - zealots) to propel their stupid uninformed masses to outrage - over an exhibit none had seen and knew nothing about.

    Yeah, every time we see those religious cretins claim anything to be "anti-Christian" it's followed by another spate of anti-gay lies.

    Posted by: Jonathan | Dec 12, 2010 1:36:11 PM


  5. Frank Rich deserves to be commended for his accurate review of the Smithsonian "controversy". It was mere theater exploited by Religious "leaders" (read - zealots) to propel their stupid uninformed masses to outrage - over an exhibit none had seen and knew nothing about.

    Yeah, every time we see those religious cretins claim anything to be "anti-Christian" it's followed by another spate of anti-gay lies.

    Posted by: Jonathan | Dec 12, 2010 1:36:11 PM


  6. Frank Rich deserves to be commended for his accurate review of the Smithsonian "controversy". It was mere theater exploited by Religious "leaders" (read - zealots) to propel their stupid uninformed masses to outrage - over an exhibit none had seen and knew nothing about.

    Yeah, every time we see those religious cretins claim anything to be "anti-Christian" it's followed by another spate of anti-gay lies.

    Posted by: Jonathan | Dec 12, 2010 1:36:11 PM


  7. Frank Rich deserves to be commended for his accurate review of the Smithsonian "controversy". It was mere theater exploited by Religious "leaders" (read - zealots) to propel their stupid uninformed masses to outrage - over an exhibit none had seen and knew nothing about.

    Yeah, every time we see those religious cretins claim anything to be "anti-Christian" it's followed by another spate of anti-gay lies.

    Posted by: Jonathan | Dec 12, 2010 1:36:11 PM


  8. We should "mobilize" against Donohue, that jack*ss.

    Posted by: Mike B. | Dec 12, 2010 2:35:34 PM


  9. Don't hold back JONATHAN. How do you really feel about Frank Rich and religious leaders?

    Posted by: Nanny McBone | Dec 12, 2010 3:55:15 PM


  10. Donohue is another catholic bully using the same tactics that have been used for hundreds of years by catholic bullies in an effort to punish those who would venture away from or crticize "approved" catholic ideology. That's why I applaud any and all efforts to rub the face of the catholic hierarchy in the dirt, given their hubris and non-shame over the pedophile scandal:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VABSoHYQr6k

    Posted by: Jack | Dec 12, 2010 4:41:54 PM


  11. This is a really good post. Last week LA Times Art Critic Christopher Knight did a good enough job of ripping the Smithsonian for failing to stand up to anti-gay bullies that I linked to it in my blog, but this eloquent piece by Frank Rich is far more devastating.

    When Mr. Rich points the finger of righteous indignation at you, there is NO place to hide.

    Posted by: EnzoInOmaha | Dec 12, 2010 5:26:36 PM


  12. This is terribly ironic. I recently toured some cathedrals in Germany and the Catholic "art" there is shocking - and I'm not easily shocked. The theme seems to be homo erotic sado-masochism that would make snuff films pale. The huge altarpiece of the stoning of St Stephen in the cathedral in Passau is modern, and very disturbing. It manages to be queer and anti-semitic at the same time. And all the churches seem to have depictions of St Sebastian almost naked with lots of arrows sticking out of him. How the hell do you explain that to little kids? And that's not to mention the stations of the cross and crucifixion. Please. Ants can only help.

    Posted by: Jim | Dec 12, 2010 6:39:50 PM


  13. Frank Rich has been a consistent and perceptive critic of the religious and secular right and those groups unending attempts to demonize and isolate the LGBT community from their constitutionally-guaranteed civil equality.

    Mr. Rich's writings are erudite and spot-on. He is able to distill the essence of the argument into such clarity that the rightist emperors are left with no clothing to hide their bigotry behind.

    As with other "controversies" that bunches up the pink-panties of the right-wing, the Smithsonian capitulation shows how easy it is for one person--in this case William Donohue, who is probably the ONLY member of his group--to exploit something that should be a non-issue and accomplish two things: getting himself free publicity and much media "face time"; and, to shut down what is an innocuous artistic display that really isn't even about christianity.

    Then, the LGBT community is smeared, slandered once again and the rightists take this to their minions and say "See? This is what will happen if gay marriage and avowed homosexuals in the military are legalised!"

    Consequently, the debate about LGBT civil equality and our humanity gets lost in the screaming and shouting and we must take two steps back from the three steps we just took forward.

    Donohue is pure, unadulterated scum but he is an expert at creating phony controversies.

    One must be grateful that Frank Rich is on the case, exposing the hypocrisy and idiocy that runs rampant in all areas and all things right-wing and/or conservative.

    There is no other way to say it: conservatism where LGBT people are concerned equals Hated, Bigotry, Prejudice and Evil.

    Posted by: jamal49 | Dec 12, 2010 6:40:44 PM


  14. We are lucky to have Frank Rich as an ally. What other straight person with a soapbox takes up the LGBT cause so reliably and so seriously?

    Posted by: GBM | Dec 12, 2010 8:28:32 PM


  15. "In response to th Smithsonian's outrageous censhorship, several museums and galleries across the United States have decided to showcase Wojnarowicz' video, including as the New Museum in NYC and CB1 Gallery in Los Angeles."

    I guess it turned out for the BEST for the artist, now that his work has gained national headlines and is being exhibited in other venues. Hence there is NO censorship here.

    I think it was fair for the Smithsonian to remove the exhibit, I mean look at it this way, if any other "artist" exhibits something that is offensive to the gay community we can at least in the same manner ask them to remove it.

    At the same time it is silly to be offended by art, and by religious relics (like the ten commandments). But if the left gets offended by these relics and they were able to get those relics hauled off from public property so too can the right play that game, and they did.

    So you libs got played using your same playbook big time.

    Makes great theater though.

    Posted by: pepa | Dec 12, 2010 9:18:31 PM


  16. but seriously, have you seen the video? It's boring & cryptic & I'll never have those few minutes back!

    I would have preferred it was not included in the first place because the thing that bothers me more is that religious intolerance & Donohue come out the winners.

    Trash me if you want, but seriously, have you seen it?

    Posted by: pete N sfo | Dec 12, 2010 9:19:30 PM


  17. Sarah Palin calling for PEPA. Sarah Palin calling for PEPA.

    Posted by: justiceontherocks | Dec 12, 2010 10:23:22 PM


  18. Sarah Palin calling for SALT. Sarah Palin calling for SALT.

    Posted by: Tre | Dec 13, 2010 1:13:19 AM


  19. The evil that is the religious right knows no bounds. The more they spew their hatred, censorship and lies, the more that people will realize just how hypocritical and evil they are. Let them hang themselves - Satan is waiting for his angels to return.

    Posted by: Tre | Dec 13, 2010 1:15:15 AM


  20. The N.Y. Times, and Frank Rich always print the news that's fit to print, and always on the right side of history. Lately, even the Chicago Tribune has sided with gay issues. Well it is the 21st Century, and the only constant negative views come from the Republican Party and their tea-bagger allies.

    Posted by: jerry pritikin | Dec 13, 2010 3:20:58 AM


  21. Oh Pepa, you rebel! Tellin' it like it is n' all. You forgot to mention that this exhibit was privately, not publicly, funded.

    Posted by: Derek Pearce | Dec 13, 2010 4:26:04 AM


  22. @PEPA Don't you have some NASCAR shindig to go to? Or maybe some GOProud gala? As Mr. Pearce pointed out, this art display was privately, not publicly funded. So, as much as you would like to make this into a liberal/conservative relevancy/equivalence issue, it's not. It's just more of right-wing, knee-jerk reaction to things they have no capacity to understand or appreciate.

    Posted by: jamal49 | Dec 13, 2010 2:54:39 PM


  23. "Oh Pepa, you rebel! Tellin' it like it is n' all. You forgot to mention that this exhibit was privately, not publicly, funded."

    Housed in a publicly funded building.

    Posted by: pepa | Dec 13, 2010 3:19:48 PM


  24. "So, as much as you would like to make this into a liberal/conservative relevancy/equivalence issue, it's not."

    Then... wait for it...:

    "It's just more of right-wing,"

    Huh?

    But I stop taking you seriously after this: "@PEPA Don't you have some NASCAR shindig to go to? Or maybe some GOProud gala?"

    Why, why, why? Why do you libs always need to attack people PERSONALLY?

    Posted by: pepa | Dec 13, 2010 3:23:15 PM


  25. PEPA - Go hang out with Christopher Barron. It's not our fault you have a micro penis - it would make me irascible, too.

    A Gay TEA partier - are you just trying - as you do the Advocate website - to promote your stupid blog that no one reads?

    Posted by: Jonathan | Dec 13, 2010 7:46:08 PM


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