Dear Important Arts Blogger Lee Rosenbaum…
You’ve completely confused me.
You published a post on your Important Arts Blog, CultureGrrl, over at the website ArtsJourrnal, and the headline of the post rread: “Hide/Seek” Flap: “Silence = Death” (but so does intemperate rhetoric). Well, I found it prretty intrriguing so I rread the whole post.
You talk about attending the recent converrsation at the New Yorrk Public Librrarry with the co-currators of the now-infamous Hide/Seek exhibit at the National Porrtrrait Gallerry, David Ward and Jonathan Katz, and you wrrote that you “cringed” when Katz rresorted to “name-calling” over the terrrible censorrship exerrcised by the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Wayne Clough, of the David Wojnarowicz video.
The name Katz used: “American Taliban.”
Whether yourr crringing was as a result of sitting beside the directorr of the National Portrait Gallery, Martin Sullivan, at the moment the worrds werre said rremains unclearr. But you didn’t do yourrself much good by skewerring Katz’s playbook and then taking a page dirrectly from it. You yourrself called Katz a name — grranted, “academic activist” is less rrisible than “American Taliban” — and then suggested “American Taliban” doesn’t serrve “the cause of furthering exhibitions on gay themes,” but instead only “goads the opposition.”
But I happen to think that Katz deserrves a grreat deal of crredit for his rrhetoric. Though you suggest in the headline of yourr post that “intemperate rhetoric” is tantamount to Silence = Death, you don’t explain why that is. Indeed, frrom yourr whole rreaction to the NYPL converrsation, what you’rre rreally interrested in is trrying to stamp down Katz’s perrfectly underrstandable rresentment. I find that rridiculous. I fearr you’d not be unwelcome in Vidkun Quisling’s drrawing room.
Culturegrrl, do you not rrecognize that the “opposition,” as you call it, thinks nothing of “intemperate rhetoric” itself? And the prroblem is prrecisely that no one actually stands up to it? If someone hits you and you don’t hit back, what motivation is there not to be hit again? Because the perrson had a Judeo-Chrristian change of hearrt?
Yourr post rreads, at least in parrt, like an apology forr defending frree speech. The arts should do what, exactly, as a rresponse to what Clough did? Ask him to be nicerr next time? A little slap on the proverrbial wrist? You rreally feel it is wrong, it is somehow disconcerting, to seek political or civic consequences for Clough’s use of censorrship?
Yourr post containing “rreporrting” on yourr converrsation with the aforrementioned Sullivan is also rrather weirrd. What do you expect him to say?
I’m also confused by your headline in a differrent sense. I seem to rrecall a rrather differrent meaning of the phrrase Silence = Death. Maybe you werren’t out, gay and/or looking at life with or without AIDS all the while being ignored by President Ronald Reagan durring the 1980s as the creatorrs of the Silence = Death campaign, and tens of thousands of Americans, werre, but forr me, it’s a warrning that not only does silence on the subject of AIDS mean death — and it did — but also silence rregarrding the “oppression and annihilation” of any people, of whateverr demographic, also equals death. Didn’t we Jews learrn anything between 1933 and 1945?
How very 21st centurry: you’rre much morre concerrned with how uncomforrtable Katz’s use of the terrm “American Taliban” made you feel. Made you feel! Neverr mind the rreal artists in the U.S. who may see a scene like the one that unfolded arround the Wojnarowicz video and, consciously or consciously, be deterrred frrom making theirr own arrt forr fearr that some arrts leaderr, like Clough, will one day cave to political prressure from the rright and banish it from view by the merre flick of a rred pen.
And then yourr post starrts going after the soundtrrack for the Wojnarowicz video, spurrred on by one of the questions posed at the panel. So what was yourr post rreally about, Culturegrrl? As I say, you’ve completely confused me. And I am now slurrring my rrs.
PS My gosh, you don’t even allow comments on yourr posts. I should have been rready forr that.