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Censoring Art

December 3, 2010

The Smithsonian has removed a piece of “art” after complaints. The art in question was a video that included, for 11 seconds, images of a crucifix being crawled over by ants. It wasn’t a big part of the exhibition, but it got spotted by Bill Donohue, an American religious zealot who likes to complain about things that don’t comply with his easily offended sensibilities. He complained and it was removed.

Why? What could he do about it other than whine? More importantly, why did the Smithsonian regard his complaint as a valid reason to remove the piece? I don’t like most modern art, but I appreciate the fact that the idea is often to shock, offend and disgust (coincidently, those are the three words the European Court of Human Rights used when describing grounds that aren’t valid reasons to quash freedom of speech). Much modern art does this – just think of the likes of Tracy Emin. Pretty disgusting. But if it gets you thinking about something then it’s done it’s bit. My prime example is Listening Post at the Science Museum – a live, uncensored feed of random messages taken of internet chat rooms. It’s incredibly voyeuristic, and sometimes you see messages that are shocking, or that give you an insight into someone’s live that isn’t the norm, but it gets you thinking about something! It succeeds even when it offends delicate sensibilities.

Donohue could have just suggested that people who share his ridiculous views don’t go to the exhibit, but he chose to demand the removal of a single piece. People are free to express themselves, as long as it’s him that’s free to override that right. When we have a situation in which public figures can be treated with deference because of their faith this is what we get – a vastly inflated sense of deference to faith over a reasoned point of view. Donohue doesn’t get  to dictate what people should see, or to define art, any more than I do.

Of course, he could just be annoyed that the exhibition was funded by “foundations that support gay and lesbian issues”. That definitely offends his dark age fundamentalist Catholic views (google the guy to get an idea of how crazy he is…).

Rant over.

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