HOW THE INTELLECTUALOIDS THINK This Brooklyn Museum thing has generated the most interesting correspondence since I mocked Goths and dismissed transgender people. Though — in sheer numbers — the response was mostly positive, the volume of the people denouncing me has been remarkable.
I’m delighted liberals read the column, the more the merrier and all that. But I must say the anti-religious bigotry on their part is stunning. People have written me things about Christians that would merit a visit from the FBI if they were said about blacks or gays. “These people get what they deserve,” “they’re not real Americans,” “the world would be a better place without them,” “these whiners are always complaining how they’re victims, they should shut up and get a life,” etc. One of my more “free-thinking” interlocutors called me an Uncle Tom slave who tells on runaway slaves. I should, she told me, hate Catholics too because they are my historical oppressors.
Of course, I have great fun calling these people bigots, first because, well, they are bigots. And, second, because this crowd thinks they are champions of tolerance and love, and so they can’t see their own bigotry. I tell them to substitute for “Christian” the words “black,” “Jew,” or “gay” and see how hateful it sounds. Even then they don’t get it. In the Tuesday column, I wrote that if you replaced the Virgin Mary with Martin Luther King you’d have left-wing protesters around the block. One reader replied:
“Your logic is flawed Mr. Goldberg. Martin Luther King was not a theocratic icon as are Jesus and the Virgin Mary to the Radical Religious Right. Martin Luther King brought together all Americans while religious symbols and characters divide people. Also there is separation between church and state that conservatives just can’t grasp and cannot honor that.” [I've fixed the typos.]
This is pretty much a universal sentiment among the liberal readers. Other uniform responses include charges of fascism and censorship which are so dumb and cliched we’ll ignore them for now. What I’m interested in is the bigotry of those who proudly and righteously proclaim their “tolerance.”
Even if the Catholic Church were guilty of every accusation ever leveled against it, it is impossible for these people (and I am referring now not to all liberals but to the multiple buffoons who’ve been writing me — and their like-minded brethren at the New York Times and elsewhere) to recognize that there are literally hundreds of millions of average people outside of the Church hierarchy who live normal, decent lives, who find smearing the Mother of their God with elephant dung offensive and divisive.
Again, if in some way I could get past the liberal gatekeepers at a public museum with an exhibit of Martin Luther King peeing on Eleanor Roosevelt or of a lynched Harvey Fierstein wearing a dress, every Starbucks in Manhattan would be empty because of the protests. But if you’re offended by the dunking of Jesus in some urine you’re a member of the booboisie.
COHEN’S BOLD QUESTION Many of these people seem transfixed by the brilliance of Richard Cohen and his column yesterday. Cohen does make an interesting argument, but interesting doesn’t mean correct. Just as cutting a cow into seven pieces may be interesting to look at, but it doesn’t make it art.
Cohen compares the Brooklyn Museum controversy to the Skokie Nazi March from 1977. Back then people had to choose whether Nazis had a right to march in Skokie. The question was, “Which side are you on?”
I think they shouldn’t have been allowed to march. Nonetheless even the Nazis had a better argument than the Brooklyn Museum. The Nazis wanted to exercise their right to assemble. By the very logic of assembling, you must actually assemble some place. I did not think Skokie was the right place, and an enlightened freedom-loving government could still make that judgement. Nevertheless, freedom to assemble is very much contingent on the location. Abortion protesters and police-brutality protesters alike understand this — they assemble where the action is.
A publicly-funded museum is different. There is nothing about this “art” that requires it to be paid for by the taxpayers. It’s not about the amount of money, it’s about the content. When the government gives money, it becomes government speech. The Left says that it violates the separation of Church and State to allocate public dollars — or even public space — for a nativity scene. But if you want to take a dump on a nativity scene and get some guy in a mock turtle neck to call it art, well then the government should cut the guy a big fat check. If the state can’t elevate religion, it can’t denigrate it either.
But it is Cohen’s last point that should bother people. Cohen refers to the recent controversy over an exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. A docent was fired for showing a bunch of fifth-grade girls a sculpture called “Back Seat Dodge ‘38.” Of course she was re-hired because, after all, only prudes and weirdos would think it inappropriate to show a statue of a couple people scrogging to ten- and eleven-year-old girls.
In the 1960s, the piece was hugely controversial; critics called it “blasphemous” and “revolting.” Cohen says that “until the recent firing, though, it had become just another piece of art — worthy, instructive, and (usually) not controversial at all.”
Now Cohen thinks he’s really hit the ball out of the park with this point — and so do all of the people who told me to read the column. He thinks we should just let time tell what will be good art and what will be bad. And surely he is right to the extent that only time will tell.
But this is a monstrously pernicious attitude in the here and now. Cohen seems not to care a whit whether “Back Seat Dodge ‘38″ is good or bad art. He simply assumes that because the piece has stayed in the Los Angeles Country Museum for twenty years, it must be art.
Now, Cohen is somewhat of an apologist for liberal fads; but perhaps it might occur to him that if museums weren’t voluptuaries of shock art it wouldn’t have lasted. If the critics stopped that piece from being shown, it would not have encouraged another generation of artists to try to one-up it with something even more shocking. If there were a Nazi-run Museum, Cohen’s reverence would not last the fiscal year.
I haven’t seen “Back Seat Dodge ‘38,” but the point remains, does Cohen think that if a subsidy-sucking fraud gets something in a Museum it’s automatically deserving of reverence? Museums are educational institutions if they are anything. Every time the government pays for a piss-drenched crucifix or subsidizes some AIDS sufferer to carve himself up in front of a live studio audience, some other jerk wants to do something even grosser.
But what is horrifying is the degree to which the Left wants to marry itself to the slow-boiling frog definition of art. Hey, if we’re shocked by something today, just give it time and we’ll get sufficiently desensitized. When does it end? When do we have the modicum of courage to say enough is enough?
Cohen talks of “daring,” “boldness,” “experimentation,” and writes: “The artistic imagination itself will surely suffer if politicians like Giuliani use the power of government to police creativity.” Giuliani “forces us all to choose — this time between objectionable art and intimidating government.” He closes the column with this supposedly powerful question: “Now which side are you on?”
Chris Ofili should remove the elephant dung from the Virgin Mary and plaster her with Cohen’s column. Does anybody think there’s a shortage for “daring,” “boldness,” and “experimentation” in the art world today? Will the cumulative aesthetic quality of our culture suffer if we ratchet back our sensibilities to, I dunno, 1960? The greatest creative expressions in human history were made under great adversity and in truly censorious environments. Every genuinely creative person knows that hardship and deadlines are the two greatest muses.
I for one won’t fret if I’ve got to pay an extra five bucks at a private museum to see what I can see in a public Porta-Potty any day of the week.
SORRY. I GOT CARRIED AWAY. There are numerous corrections and clarifications which need to be aired. But there’s just no room to get into all of it today. If you’re looking for a scapegoat, I say blame all of these people who’ve been haranguing me. If that doesn’t work blame my webguy – that’s what I usually do. But come Monday we will announce the winner of “What’s That From” for September. We will reveal what kind of tree Odin would be if he could be a tree. We’ll dissect your lists of WWI heroes. We’ll discuss the ridiculous apostasy of Arianna Huffington. We will go over your responses to my Frequently Asked Questions sheet. Gosh darn it we’ll have a grand old time. And if you like we can even talk about my piece in the current issue of intellectualcapital.com.