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Should We Give a Megaphone to the Bigots?

7 Dec

Over the past few years, we’ve seen all the nuts falling from the trees. Nowadays, it’s difficult to find a news program from CNN, MSNBC, Fox or anywhere else that doesn’t offer differing viewpoints on the topics of the day – no matter how bigoted those viewpoints might be.

But how far should the media go in giving a platform to bigots, racists, homophobes and the like? Julie Bolcer at The Advocate points out a brief interview with Tom Brokaw on a red carpet recently. Brokaw pointed out the fact that sometimes it’s outrageous anti-gay viewpoints that spark conversations nationwide. “You just say that they’ve got strong opinions. You treat like them like anyone else. You cross-examine and ask them the right questions.” Brokaw said.

As a journalist, one would think that you should be fairly removed from the topic you are reporting on, but it would seem with the evolution of news programs from most of the major cable networks, that commentary on these issues has become standard.

Anderson Cooper joined the fray earlier this year when he interviewed former Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell after Shirvell had harrassed and stalked openly-gay University of Michigan student body president, Chris Armstrong. Cooper was less-than-kind to Shirvell stopping just a few inches short of calling him a lunatic on national television.

And our beloved Rachel Maddow used her bully pulpit to eviscerate ex-gay therapist Richard Cohen, when he tried to explain his methods of “curing” homosexuality. While never being rude to Mr. Cohen, it was clear that Maddow found all his techniques to be…let’s say “outside the box.”

But do these appearances help in the struggle for civil rights by pointing out the shameless bigotry and hatred being displayed by individuals like The National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown or Maggie Gallagher? Or does it hurt us by giving a national platform to these otherwise fairly anonymous individuals?

There’s also the bigger question of freedom of speech – which is the usual line of defense for the networks when questioned as to why they allowed these people on their shows. This argument doesn’t hold a lot of water for me really though, as you can still speak out without being handed a national platform to do so.

I tend to believe the former, but I live in a major metropolitan area where most of the people I know share similar politics with me. With such a huge influx in LGBT stories in the media the past few years, is it necessary to offer a counterpoint, even when it’s as offbeat and bigoted as some of these examples?

Transformer Gallery: Not Tonight, Boehner

4 Dec

The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC is currently presenting a groundbreaking LGBT arts exhibit, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.  The Gallery describes the exhibit as “the first major exhibition to examine the influence of gay and lesbian artists in creating modern American portraiture.” As we’ve written, right-wing critics have attacked the exhibit and manufactured a controversy over a video installation by David Wojnarowicz (who died from AIDS-related illness in 1992). The video, created in 1987, is titled “A Fire in My Belly,” made in honor of Peter Hujar, an artist-colleague and lover of Wojnarowicz who had died of AIDS complications in 1987.

After Rep. John Boehner, Rep. Eric Cantor, Glenn Beck, and William Donohue misrepresented the work and whipped up a smear campaign against the installation, the Smithsonian backed off and removed the video.

Now one brave local gallery has taken a stand against censorship and began showing the video in its public space just up the road almost immediately after the video was removed.

The Transformer Gallery has been leading the charge against the blatant mischaracterization of the work and standing up for the integrity of Art, freedom of expression, and the need for dialog about culturally sensitive issues like this.

After displaying the video the gallery owners and management organized an artistic response to the censorship, leading a march and silent protest on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery.

As a response to the censorship by the Smithsonian of Wojnarowicz’swork, and in honor of World AIDS Day & Day With(out) Art, the many alternative art spaces, visual arts organizations, artists, and activists around the world that have paved the path for freedom of expression & the existence of experimental arts venues like Transformer, we feel it is our job to champion all artists’ creative expression without constraints,and to continue the important dialogue Wojnarowicz’s work generates about aggression, hunger, community, love, loss, as well as religion” states Victoria Reis, co-Founder, Executive & Artistic Director of Transformer

The Gallery plans to continue to show the full video, with permission from the estate of the artist.  In addition, they will further dialog around the work by organizing a large-scale public presentation and a panel discussion on the work.

This is an amazing example of the arts community fighting back against anti-intellectual bullying from lawmakers and fear mongering pundits. The turnout was great for such a spontaneous demonstration and it was wonderful to see the larger progressive and artistic community rallying around a LGBT issue.  The Transformer Gallery has taken an immediate and aggressive stance against ignorance and injustice.  They are doing fantastic work to highlight the issue and further dialog in the absence of such integrity from the Smithsonian.

See what people like John Boehner don’t understand is that censorship can’t silence our community anymore.  The video may not be in the Portrait Gallery but more people have seen this work as a direct result of their intervention, and the message has gone further than even the curators of the exhibit could have foreseen. In the age of the internet, and with savvy and courageous arts organizations like Transformer, they can’t stop creative expression and arrogantly bully us into silence.




Artist Lost to AIDS, CENSORED on World AIDS Day

1 Dec

David Wojnarowicz (portrait by Peter Hujar)

The interwebs are all abuzz today with news about an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. The exhibit, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture

features a video by artist David Wojnarowicz (who died from AIDS-related illness in 1992). The video, created in 1987, is titled “A Fire in My Belly,” made in honor of Peter Hujar, an artist-colleague and lover of Wojnarowicz who had died of AIDS complications in 1987.

An 11-second portion of the 4 minutes on display (the actual film is 30 minutes long), features a cross with ants crawling over it.

Today, after just a few hours of pressure from The Catholic League, who complained that the piece was “designed to insult and inflict injury and assault the sensibilities of Christians,” the museum shut down the exhibit, effectively censoring the artwork of an openly-gay artist who died from AIDS – on World AIDS Day.

Since last night, pundits have been attacking the exhibit as a tax dollar-funded installation. Glenn Beck said about the exhibit:

“And then you have the tax dollars funding this wonderful art display. It’s Christmas at the Smithsonian.”

And this morning, Fox & Friends reported:

“Your taxpayer dollars being used for this: A picture of Jesus covered in ants. The art is being pulled, but the museum is keeping your money. Is this a good use of your dollars?”

As has been reported (and could have easily been found out with the most cursory amount of research by any journalist), this exhibit is entirely privately-funded, as can be discovered by looking at the event’s page on the National Portrait Gallery website. Thanks to Media Matters for more incredible reporting.

So, not only did those who publicly oppose equality successfully censor an openly-gay artist who died from AIDS on World AIDS Day, but they’ve lied to raise wrongful anger against our nation’s greatest museum.We have left some messages for the Director of the National Portrait Gallery, but have not yet heard back. We hope to offer some further information on this soon.