Repubs Force Smithsonian To Censor Gay Exhibit-UPDATED

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Republicans wasted no time tackling the hard legislative issues that lie before Congress in the coming years.

Widespread unemployment? No, they let the new unemployment benefits bill die, leaving millions of Americans with zero income going into the new year. The START treaty to reduce our and Russia's nuclear arsenal? No, they want to put that off until sometime next year... if ever. Getting rid of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," as a recent Pentagon study recommended and Defense Secretary Robert Gates supported? Nah; all 42 members of the GOP Senate caucus have vowed to block any legislation that doesn't have to do with protecting millionaires' tax rates or deficit cuts. Prosecute America's war criminals? Surely, you're joking!

Nope; the thing they're exercised about is a short art video that's part of a new exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution, "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture."

"This is an outrageous use of taxpayer money and an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season," said House Majority Leader-to-be Eric Cantor. "When a museum receives taxpayer money, the taxpayers have a right to expect that the museum will uphold common standards of decency. The museum should pull the exhibit and be prepared for serious questions come budget time."

A spokesman for Speaker of the House-to-be John Boehner voiced similar threats.

"American families have a right to expect better from recipients of taxpayer funds in a tough economy," Boehner's publicity flack Kevin Smith (no relation) told the ultra-conservative "While the amount of money involved may be small, it's symbolic of the arrogance Washington routinely applies to thousands of spending decisions involving Americans' hard-earned money at a time when one in every 10 Americans is out of work and our children's future is being threatened by debt. Smithsonian officials should either acknowledge the mistake and correct it, or be prepared to face tough scrutiny beginning in January when the new majority in the House moves to end the job-killing spending spree in Washington."

At issue is a four-minute video segment, "A Fire In My Belly," by David Wojnarowicz, a gay artist who died from AIDS-related illness in 1992. Wojnarowicz made the video as a tribute to his fellow artist and lover, Peter Hujar, who'd died five years earlier.

"[F]or eleven seconds of that meandering, stream-of-consciousness work—the full version is 30 minutes long—a crucifix appears onscreen with ants crawling on it," explained Washington Post art critic Blake Gopnik. "It seems such an inconsequential part of the total video that neither I nor anyone I've spoken to who saw the work remembered it at all."

But if one were to read the right-wing and conservative-religious blogs, one would find that it's their Outrage of the Day.

"It would jump out at people if they had ants crawling all over the body of Mohammed," charged Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, "except that they wouldn’t do it, of course, for obvious reasons."

(Obvious reasons like that Americans have freedom of religion?)

"If the government cannot take the public’s money and pick its pocket to promote religion," Donahue added, "why is it okay to pick its pocket and assault religion?"

The money issue also weighed heavily on the mind of Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.).

"Absolutely, we should look at their funds," Kingston, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, told Fox News. "If they’ve got money to squander like this—of a crucifix being eaten by ants, of Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts, men in chains, naked brothers kissing—then I think we should look at their budget [by] calling them up in front of the Appropriations Committee, asking for some resignations, auditing all their budget—all their books."

And as The Guardian (UK) pointed out, "The threat of funding cuts is not an idle one. In the 1990s the National Endowment for the Arts lost almost half its government funding after it upset Congress members by showing the work of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, a picture of a crucifix dipped into his own urine."

Of course, the money thing isn't actually true.

"Smithsonian Institution spokesperson Linda St. Thomas ... told, however, that federal funds are not used to pay for Smithsonian exhibits themselves, including the 'Hide/Seek' exhibit, but instead pay for the buildings, the care of collections exhibited at Smithsonian venues, and museum staff, including the salaries for curators of exhibits."

In fact, the exhibit was paid for by contributions from, among others, The Calamus Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The John Burton Harter Charitable Foundation, and The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

But what the hell; the National Portrait Gallery's director, Martin Sullivan, caved to the censors anyway, pulling "A Fire In My Belly" out of the exhibit yesterday.

"I regret that some reports about the exhibit have created an impression that the video is intentionally sacrilegious," Martin said in a written statement on Tuesday. "In fact, the artist's intention was to depict the suffering of an AIDS victim. It was not the museum's intention to offend. We are removing the video today."

It's a development that should cause great concern in the adult entertainment community. After all, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca.), soon-to-be Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, "has made it abundantly clear that he intends to hold 'seven hearings a week, times 40 weeks'," report Alex Slater and Calvin Harris in The Guardian (UK). "That's 280 hearings and, assuming conservatively that each hearing lasts four hours, over 1,100 laborious hours targeted at the Obama administration and the Democrats, whether or not the subjects are worthy of investigation, let alone of any value to the American public."

"Issa's agenda is transparent because he has already made it so," The Guardian reporters continue. "The representative from California has stated that he plans on launching new investigations into presidential earmarks, the stimulus, healthcare reform, the Postal Service's financial difficulties, White House staffing decisions and Obama's response to the BP oil spill. In short, this committee will be used as an inquisition to revisit every single action undertaken by the administration—including some the administration had nothing to do with." [Emphasis added]

Considering how easy it is to target adult content at the federal level—AVN readers will recall the Senate hearings on porn and the internet chaired by Sen. Sam Brownback (now governor of Kansas) and the late Sen. Ted Stevens during President George W. Bush's second term—there's certainly reason for concern that at least one or two of Issa's hundreds of hearings will deal with "pornography" in some or all of its myriad forms.

And that's something to worry about—thanks, Republicans!

UPDATE: Renown science blogger P.Z. Myers weighs in on how the Smithsonian has decided that art can't be controversial.