Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Censoring Art that Offends Religious Sensibilities

GOP Congressional leaders successfully forced the the removal of a controversial video that was part of an art exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait gallery. Why? Here's Representative and soon to be House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va), who called it,
an "outrageous use of taxpayer money and an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season."
The art in question showed"Jesus on a crucifix covered in ants." Let's imagine that the gallery hosted some art that Muslims found offensive, such as any image of Mohammed. Would the same GOP congressmen be up in arms about that? I doubt it. (Although instead there would be Democrats trying to censor it.) From what I saw in the article, I personally think the art in question is a pile of garbage. But art is highly subjective. I also oppose federal funding for the arts. But once you do provide federal funding, it's crazy to censor displays because of the tender sensibilities of religious people. That should apply to any religious group, including the Christian majority.

And is this really an issue that needs to be of concern to our congressional leaders? Don't they have anything better to do than work to prevent Christians from being offended by some exhibit in a museum? Instead of threatening to cut funding because they don't like an art display, they should cut funding because it's unnecessary and something we can do without in this budgetary environment. Here's an idea. How about if Christians don't like the art they just don't patronize the museum during that exhibit? Why do they need government involvement?

Religious people do not have a right not to be offended. And they don't need big government intervention to protect their feelings. The same GOP congressmen who will rail about big government and nanny-statism on other issues, have no problem telling an art museum what art it can display. You don't think the museum is worthy of funding because of the quality of its art exhibits? Fine. Kill the funding. But micro-managing art displays from Capitol Hill is just ridiculous, and goes directly against the principles of small government the Republican party stands for.

5 comments:

  1. This type of "issue" is exactly what riles up the right, so Republicans maximize it as a political weapon. There are plenty of things within Christianity that offend non-Christians, but any criticism and...well you know the rest. At the end of the day, we shouldn't be censoring any art, as the very concept is un-American, and possibly unconstitutional.

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  2. Well, the excuse is that because they are getting federal funding, that means the government can tell them what to do. That rationale is used for many things. But just because the government has the right to meddle in art display decisions doesn't mean it should be doing so.

    But yes, those GOP leaders saw this as an easy way to score political points with the base.

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  3. I see your point, but a couple of things to consider.

    "Let's imagine that the gallery hosted some art that Muslims found offensive, such as any image of Mohamed. Would the same GOP congressmen be up in arms about that? "

    Not a valid hypothetical because the artist, the curator, and perhaps may visitors would be dead... OK, maybe an exaggeration, but not too many artists have the intestinal fortitude to even draw Mohammed, et alone cover him in ants.

    "How about if Christians don't like the art they just don't patronize the museum during that exhibit? Why do they need government involvement?"

    Government is already involved. Is there anything labeled art that would be considered too offensive to be displayed in a federally funded museum? Or is everything OK as long as someone calls it art? Bet I can come up with a few things that would be unacceptable...

    "Religious people do not have a right not to be offended. "

    Actually everyone has a right to be offended by anything that offends them... kind of comes with being an American. Now whether or not we have a right to expect the government to act on our feelings is a matter for debate, but we can not tell people what to think or feel... well, not yet anyway.

    Where we are in agreement here is that we can not afford to have the government (aka us) pay for stuff we don't need when we are broke. Funding a museum, PBC, studies of the mating habits of snails, or whatever might be great ideas when our pockets are overflowing with cash, but the last I looked we're tapped out. Time to tighten the belt, pay for what we need, and cut out most of what we (or some of us) might want...

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  4. "Not a valid hypothetical because the artist, the curator, and perhaps may visitors would be dead... OK, maybe an exaggeration, but not too many artists have the intestinal fortitude to even draw Mohammed, et alone cover him in ants."

    True, but the same principles apply.

    "Government is already involved."

    Yes, I acknowledge that because of government funding. But again, if you are going to give money to the arts, it is reasonable to have arts types decide what exhibits to display. Unless there is a clear code ahead of time as to what they can and cannot exhibit, in my opinion it is unreasonable to have Congressmen step in later to try to remove exhibits because people are offended. Everyone knows that art is sometimes done to shock and offend.

    "Actually everyone has a right to be offended by anything that offends them... kind of comes with being an American. Now whether or not we have a right to expect the government to act on our feelings is a matter for debate, but we can not tell people what to think or feel... well, not yet anyway.
    "

    I'm using "no right not to be offended" as shorthand for no right to have the government protect you from offense.

    "Where we are in agreement here is that we can not afford to have the government (aka us) pay for stuff we don't need when we are broke."

    Definitely. I would cut all federal funding for the arts. Art can stand on its own merits or rely on wealthy patrons to support it. It shouldn't need or require taxpayer money.

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  5. "I'm using "no right not to be offended" as shorthand for no right to have the government protect you from offense."

    Didn't save that many words with that shorthand :-) j/k

    All valid points, no use debating the path since we agree with the end result.. cut the budget.

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