December 2nd, 2010 / 12:00 pm
Random

SILENCE STILL = DEATH


I wanted to write about this, or at least mention it here, because it’s occupying my mind to the point where I feel guilty for spending two hours recording videos of myself singing songs by Ke$ha , watching a shitty horror movie, or even listening to stoner metal last night. Hell, basically the fact that I did anything other than “be angry” is making me feel guilty. But on the other hand I know that’s ridiculous, and that the unfortunate fact of the matter is being angry wouldn’t have accomplished anything. To be fair nothing I actually did accomplished anything either. I don’t know what I could have done that would have been helpful, so I guess getting the information out to people who don’t know is something I can do at least.

The above video is a 4 minute and 11 second excerpt from David Wojnarowicz’s experimental film Fire in My Belly. This is all I’ve seen of the film (in fact I didn’t even know that this was only an excerpt, as opposed to the entire film, until yesterday), but I’ve watched it a lot. Wojnarowicz is an artist that I find really powerful, both from the entire scope of his life story and in the art he produced itself.

By 16, Wojnarowicz had dropped out of high school and was living on the streets, due to a shitty home life and the terror he faced due to his own homosexuality. Homeless, he hustled for a living, eventually hitchhiking cross-country a few times before settling in NYC in the late 70s. In the 1980s he was diagnosed with AIDS.

Not to pull attention away from his earlier works–virtually everything he made throughout his visible life as an artist is amazing–but the work he started to make after being diagnosed, well, the work was angry. David Wojnarowicz was angry because he was invisible–because queers were invisible. Something that he said, that I think is really fucking just so to the point, is what follows:

‎”I want to throw up because we’re supposed to quietly and politely make house in this killing machine called America and pay taxes to support our own slow murder and I’m amazed we’re not running amok in the streets, and that we can still be capable of gestures of loving after lifetimes of all this.”


The thing is, he’s right. No matter how much you personally want to distance yourself from the idea of politics, of being political at all, there’s an entire world of people surrounding you that is just getting walked over again and again, even today, whether because they’re queer, or because they’re women, or because they’re poor, or because they’re old, or because they’re not white, or just because they’re different. It’s severely fucked up.

Yesterday was World AIDS Day. Google commemorated World AIDS Day by reminding their millions of visitors of Rosa Parks’s civil actions. The Smithsonian commemorated World AIDS Day by conceding to the pressures of the Catholic League & other conservative groups by removing Wojnarowicz’s video, above, from a show at the National Portraiture Gallery, where a show on the visibility of queer love is currently being exhibited. While this is ultimately ironic, it’s also fucking infuriating.

At ArtInfo, Tyler Green brings up “Ten Key Points About the Smithsonian/NPG Controversy, and I think the most relevant point is as follows:

“A key part of these events is the refusal of religious conservatives to acknowledge that gays and lesbians are Americans in full, as worthy of being studied and contextualized by historians as Catholics or Montanans. The religious right wants nothing less than for gays and lesbians to be made as invisible as possible, to be hidden or removed from our shared national history.”

I’m not sure if the conservatives who targeted Wojnarowicz’s video were trying to be clever, or ironic, or if it was just by some fucked up & convenient accident accident that this was the work they chose, but as I’ve mentioned, Wojnarowciz’s entire motivation for making art was to further the idea that queers should not be invisible.

And now, in 20-fucking-10, we have part two of the NEA/Mapplethorpe “Controversy”. This is sickening, and makes me want to walk down the streets with piles of acid to pour on the world so we can all just melt into the goddamn earth, maybe starting over again in a millennium or two. Or use the combined psychic distress of everyone who has been marginalized ever to destroy the world. Or write fan fiction about a “post-rapture world” where bigoted Christians are finally gone and Real People can live in peace. Because I’m tired of having to ignore shit like this just to be able to convince myself that doing anything is a worthy pursuit. Because if I actually remind myself of how terrible people can be I find it really, really difficult to just be alive.

So, I guess the question is, what can be done? I think it’s incredibly important that Wojnarowicz’s work remain visible, not only as a voice for disgruntled queers, but for marginalized youths in general. There are a bunch of facebook groups that you can join to show your support, or you can “write on the Smithsonian’s wall” and tell them that they’re fuck-heads. But these things seem pretty passive to me. So, I guess instead, here’s my suggestion. Tell everyone you know, everyone you meet, that this is a terrible fucking thing. Tell people who don’t care. I think it’s important that this event, this fucking shameless bowing to the Right, is visible. I think this is something that is far bigger than the artworld, because it’s fucked up. It’s a microcosm of the terrible shit that happens to both marginalized art & people on a daily basis.

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32 Comments

  1. Lyndon LaDouche

      You want to make a difference? Pick up a gun and aim for the oppressors. Anything less than that doesn’t work. I mean, you can wait it out, like they did in Eastern Europe, but patience, as a virtue, is highly overrated, especially in the 21rst Century, when time, it seems, it literally running out on this failed experiment we call human civilization. This planet needs chemo, and the sooner we get it started the better our odds for survival as a species.

  2. Lyndon LaDouche

      You want to make a difference? Pick up a gun and aim for the oppressors. Anything less than that doesn’t work. I mean, you can wait it out, like they did in Eastern Europe, but patience, as a virtue, is highly overrated, especially in the 21rst Century, when time, it seems, it literally running out on this failed experiment we call human civilization. This planet needs chemo, and the sooner we get it started the better our odds for survival as a species.

  3. M. Kitchell

      Well, if the full length version ever shows up as a bootleg I’m sure it won’t be long before it’s up on Ubuweb. It’s kind of a surprise to me that it’s not available anywhere :(

  4. mwlpdx

      Hell yes.

  5. ryder collins

      Fuck yes. Thank you for posting this.

  6. Paul Boshears

      It’s stunning that Wojnarowicz’s video has been removed. Especially when I saw Serrano’s “Pisschrist” at the Corcoran in D.C. in the 90s as a child. Act Up/Gran Fury (the activist/artists that created “Silence=Death”) are have started doing some retrospectives again up in New York. I had a really great class with filmmaker Tom Kalin (who was a founding member of Act Up/Gran Fury) this summer and I learned a ton about the AIDS Crisis (which continues to be ridiculous).

  7. Matthew Simmons

      One of the loudest voices for removal of the Wojnarowicz’s was Bill Donohue, head of the Catholic League. Being just a little more than passingly familiar with the public life of Bill Donohue, I can assure you that nothing about anything he does is in any way clever.

      Fuck the assholes at the Smithsonian who capitulated to that piggish shitbag.

  8. Johannesgoransson

      Great post, it’s infuriating.

  9. Sypha

      Having just watched this clip for the first time, I really can’t see how a Christian or a Catholic could find this offensive. In terms of symbolism it could even be argued as being theologically sound (I’m reminded of a passage from J.K. Huysmans’ novel “The Cathedral” in which humankind is compared to the insects and vermin swarming on the body of Christ at the moment of his crucifixion). It also brings to mind the work of the Dutch Primitives who specialized in painting extremely graphic and grotesque crucifixion scenes (Matthias Grünewald, for example).

  10. megan milks

      yeah – thanks, mike.

  11. Lyndon LaDouche

      You want to make a difference? Pick up a gun and aim for the oppressors. Anything less than that doesn’t work. I mean, you can wait it out, like they did in Eastern Europe, but patience, as a virtue, is highly overrated, especially in the 21rst Century, when time, it seems, it literally running out on this failed experiment we call human civilization. This planet needs chemo, and the sooner we get it started the better our odds for survival as a species.

  12. drewkalbach

      better yet, why doesnt someone get the funds, create a website, and disseminate the film for free? the internet is the machine of exposure. give it a new voice.

  13. M Kitchell

      Well, if the full length version ever shows up as a bootleg I’m sure it won’t be long before it’s up on Ubuweb. It’s kind of a surprise to me that it’s not available anywhere :(

  14. lily hoang

      thank you, mike.

  15. keedee

      Yes. The Awl got it right too, by pointing out that for all the bravery claimed by the Smithsonian for holding the show, they caved at the first Republican threat of financial castration.

      The problem is complex. Is an artwork that desecrates a religious symbol hateful? Does an artist’s intent matter in critique? If it doesn’t does that make the critical opinion with the most power become truth? Is this even desecration? How is “Fire in My Belly” less offensive than Mel Gibson’s movie?

      http://www.theawl.com/2010/12/what-else-is-in-the-national-portrait-gallerys-offensive-gay-show

  16. Tadd Adcox

      This is why I’m glad that the concept of “hate speech” doesn’t exist in US law… and why I’m sad that the concept has nonetheless gained enough ground that Republicans feel they can deploy it against works like this.

  17. Tadd Adcox

      probably should’ve said “conservatives” in lieu of “Republicans”

  18. Eric Beeny

      Awesome, awesome post. Thank you…

  19. Amber

      This is great, Mike. I’m pissed off everyday because of shit like this. Fucking right wing assholes.

      By the way, the Smithsonian capitulates like this a lot. Last time was an Artic exhibit that carefully didn’t mention global warming after complaints and threats from the right.

  20. Chickeninthefield

      Tomorrow (today, I can’t sleep) I have to accompany my 73 year old father to a cancer clinic for chemotherapy. Earlier, I look up the word “blessing” and find “blōþisōjanan,” which is deconstructable to “hallow with blood.” “Janan” means blood. Later it turns in to my name (John). I liked word histories more than learning languages, pure events, opposed to language. A user. Like when you have to check a box at a doctor’s office (many sometimes) Nicotine: X. I cut the word in two, feeling glamorous while smoking and listening to music: Nico teen. Then weed, like whoa.

      I didn’t eat today because of nerves. I have nerves. I have to breath slowly. There is no selectivity in families for affection. I read some Paul Ricouer earlier, and bought a Christmas tree. I keep putting myself into the deep future, but I get no joy out of the day-to-day. I left the door opener somewhere. I keep losing track of everything because of all the stress, like I have slipped out of time. The metabola may come about, I might be a total troll exploiting my fathers illness, making excuses for my lack of self-control and his, or I may die from the same disease, in part because certain images and substances gave way to death, so that profit was made, of course in America with a great deal of assistance, sometimes, too. Art is the ulterior of this use, hopefully, this kind of industry. So, I agree with the above comment, re: chemo, or feel it keenly, not because it is upsetting at all, but because I think it is wonderful, the language and the inventiveness of the name too, but it led me to want to say what might be a better use of conscience, which is sort of embarrassing given the context, but I had to say, as a for instance.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeno%27s_Conscience

  21. Anon

      But the Smithsonian is federally funded, for the most part. I have no problem with this kind of work being exhibited in a private gallery but when citizens’ tax dollars are being used to bankroll an exhibit they find offensive there is a problem. (That is the key problem with involving the government in arts funding, IMHO.)
      For the record, I did not even see a tie to homosexuality in the above clip (admittedly I did not see the entire film) but I can understand how Catholics might be offended by the depictions of Jesus and the Crucifix. Forcing people to pay for an exhibit they find offensive with their tax dollars only creates more hostility. Were this a private gallery all bets would be off. My two cents.

  22. Peter Jurmu

      Forcing people to pay with their tax dollars for a/n ________ they find offensive only creates more hostility.

  23. Johannesgoransson

      I pay taxes and I’m offended by this guy being silenced. Why are “tax payers” always invoked as a force of the conservative agenda?

      Johannes

  24. trees

      How about killing innocent civilians and running shadowy torture prisons all over the world? That should be offensive to taxpayers and any self-respecting “Christian.”

      How about plutocrats raking in government-paid bonuses and tax exemptions while people on my block knock on my door asking if I have extra food? That should be offensive to taxpayers and any self-respecting “Christian.”

      And how about myself and so many other queers being run out of schools, homes, and lives, simply because of how we desire? That should be offensive to taxpayers and any self-respecting “Christian.”

      Fuck your argument, and fuck conservative Christians.

  25. RyanPard

      I’m uneasy with this argument for two reasons. One, the Smithsonian is federally funded, but to say claim that it should be beholden to the taxpayers for each and every thing it does seems off. If its actions are that divisive then Americans should eventually push for it to be de-funded. For now our tax dollars imply a certain amount of public trust in the museum’s administrators’ judgement, and to pretend that the actions of a publicly funded entity should never offend the taxpayers seems like an easy way of dodging the main question: Why did the museum bow down?

      Two, how does one determine which groups to bow to and which to not? I doubt the religious right is the only group of Americans that are ever offended by exhibits at the Smithsonian. Will future exhibits deemed to be just as offensive to gays, blacks, or native americans be removed just as quickly? Ultimately it seems like this policy leads only to: bowing down to the empowered, blowing off the marginalized. There has to be a different process for determining a public museum’s accountability to the citizenry.

  26. trees

      Also, just another note:

      Over at Media Matters, Jamison Foser points out the obvious:

      The Smithsonian does not use government money to fund exhibitions. The exhibit in question was funded by private-sector contributions. And even if it had been funded with government money, its total cost — $750,000 — would represent about 0.00002 percent of the federal budget. But, again, the exhibit wasn’t funded by the government, which means that in arguing that it’s easy to cut spending, Ben Shapiro successfully identified an exhibit that constitutes exactly 0.0 percent of the federal budget. With sharp minds like Shapiro’s at work, the deficit will be gone in no time!

  27. Guest

      Ah yes, because if we kill everyone who has a different opinion from us, the world will be much safer and diverse. Rosa Parks didn’t murder anyone, or call for the murder of anyone. If you had instead called for people to pick up a gun and aim for their own heads, as I advise YOU to do, I don’t think anyone could complain to see violent radicalists like yourself taking affirmative action to reduce the amount of hate in the world.

  28. Guest

      Ah yes, because if we kill everyone who has a different opinion from us, the world will be much safer and diverse. Rosa Parks didn’t murder anyone, or call for the murder of anyone. If you had instead called for people to pick up a gun and aim for their own heads, as I advise YOU to do, I don’t think anyone could complain to see violent radicalists like yourself taking affirmative action to reduce the amount of hate in the world.

  29. Guest

      If it bothers you so much, take these people into your home. Hell, donate your home to them. Work for them. Be their slaves. Give them every possession and every bit of your future. If you really feel so strongly about it, devote your life to making them comfortable and giving them respite. Shame us with your selflessness. Only then will I believe you’re any less of a hypocrite than you claim I am.

  30. M Kitchell

      go away

  31. trees

      Typical illogical response— charity and treating people with empathy and respect do not equate with giving one’s entire life or possessions over to anyone. If you believe what you wrote above, then I must say again: you’re not a Christian, you’re just a puppet of political forces calling themselves Christian. Please do fuck off.

  32. Fire in My Belly | HTMLGIANT

      […] a follow up to my earlier post on the censorship of Fire in my Belly, someone has gotten a hold of the entire 20 minute […]