Defending Rudy

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Sept. 23 1999 5:03 PM

Defending Rudy

Rudolph Giuliani has managed to make himself a laughingstock to the cognoscenti by threatening to de-fund the Brooklyn Museum of Art if it doesn't cancel an art show that includes (according to today's New York Times) "a portrait of the Virgin Mary stained with a clump of elephant dung." The Times news story more or less congratulates Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman for failing to be "intimidated by Mr. Giuliani's expression of outrage" (imagine how differently the story would read if it said Lehman failed to be "moved by Mr. Giuliani's expression of outrage"). (Click here  for a Slate colleague's outrage.) But why should taxpayers have to pay for a portrait of the Virgin Mary covered by elephant shit? Isn't it a little silly that the same sort of people who bitch about school prayer and public-school vouchers spent on religious education are ready to lay down their lives to protect the government's right to subsidize art that desecrates religious figures in the most sophomoric way imaginable? Whatever happened to the separation between church and state?

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Chatterbox doesn't think people should have to pay, through their taxes, for art that is likely to offend them deeply. The Times would understand this principle better if the cause of offense were, for example, a government-funded silk screen that said ALL NIGGERS MUST DIE or KIKES INVENTED THE HOLOCAUST. One can imagine ironic or otherwise complex readings of these statements that might attempt to cleanse them of their offensive meaning, just as the Times attempts to cleanse the Virgin Mary canvas of its offensive meaning by quoting the artist, Chris Ofili, saying it all has something to do with his childhood confusion about the virgin birth. But Chatterbox wouldn't buy it, and neither would the Times.

Chatterbox, an atheist, holds no brief for the Virgin Mary. And he isn't against avant-garde art per se. He actually thought Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ," another act of scatological desecration, was pretty to look at (though he thought the idea it conveyed a bit childish). But Chatterbox doesn't think artworks that a significant number of people are likely to find blatantly offensive should be state-funded. Let private benefactors pay for them, if the market won't support them (which it almost certainly won't).

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