I have a feeling that House Majority Leader-to-be John Boehner may prove himself the worthy recipient of many a Douchebag Decree in the months and years to come, but the distinctly layered douche-osity of this story made it hard to resist awarding him the honors this week.
Since October 30, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery has been showing Hide/Seek, an exhibition of LGBTQ portraiture. Until yesterday, one of the pieces in the exhibition was a video called “Fire in My Belly.” The piece, meant to be an expression of the pain of AIDS and the fragility of the body, was created by David Wojnarowicz in response to his partner’s suffering. Wojnarowicz himself died of AIDS in 1992. Here is the video, which depicts ants crawling on a crucifix, among other images. A warning: It is pretty graphic in its depictions of human suffering, and is NSFW.
The exhibition had been running smoothly since its opening, with only one complaint from a visitor. Then suddenly this week, the über-conservative Boehner, having most likely been alerted to the exhibition by the Catholic League and conservative site CNS News, surfaced from his self-congratulatory election haze and decided that he was outraged! His outrage was focused on the Wojnarowicz video and its depiction of the crucifix, but CNS and Boehner’s buddies took issue with other parts of the exhibition as well.
Jack Kingston (R-Georgia) had this to say: “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.”
As a side note, I’m wondering when Ellen DeGeneres stopped being America’s Favorite Nonthreatening Daytime Lesbian and started inciting such a fear of feel-ups. But the important part of Kingston’s statement, and what makes this whole debacle so very douche-y, is that mention of the budget. Basically, Boehner and his cronies hinted repeatedly that unless the Smithsonian took down the Jesus/ants video, thereby censoring itself to meet conservative standards, they were going to cut their federal funding.
Boehner was typically righteous, saying, “American families have a right to expect better from recipients of taxpayer funds in a tough economy.” As others have reported, this is a bullshit stance to take, seeing as the Hide/Seek exhibit is largely funded by individual donors and LGBTQ foundations. But Boehner doesn’t care: “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.”
Now, I’d like to say that this a black-and-white, douche vs. non-douche story, but it seems that we have a bit of a douche sandwich on our hands. The Smithsonian, in response to being called out by Boehner and company, did not do the right thing and take yesterday’s World AIDS Day as an opportunity to stand up for the work of this LGBTQ artist who died of AIDS. Nope. Instead they did the douche thing by taking down the video and all but apologizing. “I regret that some reports about the exhibit have created an impression that the video is intentionally sacrilegious,” said Martin Sullivan, the National Portrait Gallery’s director. “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.” The rest of the exhibit has stayed intact.
Obviously, I think this was the wrong move on the Smithsonian’s part. But I’d love to hear other opinions! Was it acceptable for the NPG to take down the video, seeing as Boehner and the House do have the power to take away some of the museum’s funding? Should the NPG be given a pass since they are, after all, the first major American museum to house an exhibition of LGBTQ portraits? Or is it Douchebag Decrees all around this week?