September 26, 1989
All this hoodoo about the Robert Mapplethorpe photography show has got me, as Weekly World News columnist Ed Anger would put it, "pig-biting' mad." Sen. Jesse Helms tried to punish the National Endowment for the Arts for giving money to a traveling exhibit of photos by Mapplethorpe, including a shot of the late Mapplethorpe with a whip handle up his bum.
It seems Mr. Helms didn't think photos of leather-clad men using other leather-clad men's mouths for urinals was a proper use of public money (whereas subsidizing tobacco growers is ). But that's not why I'm mad. I'm pig-bitin' perturbed because all this time my prized high school oil painting -- a picture of early Stone Age primate men cavorting in awe around a giant coffee mug -- is still rotting in a corner of my room, unseen by the art-loving American public.
It's not a bad painting, really. Quite fetching as my old art teacher used to say. I used to hang it next to my portrait of Jesse Helms posing with the Constitution, but now I just keep it wrapped up in the corner, hoping that one day, when I've left this world, some NEA administrator will discover it.
He'll step back a couple of paces, look at it admiringly, and say, "What color! What style! What flair with monkeys!"
They'll give me a grant, but it'll be too late.
The trouble is, the NEA doesn't know art from a whip handle up the ass. I've seen the photos in question, and while the self portrait poses an interesting problem about how to set the timer and waddle into place before the camera goes off, there's nothing all that outstanding about them. There's not early morning light playing along the whip handle, no subtle allusion to the landscapes of Ansel Adams, no caught-unawares snapshot quality about them. If these pix are art, I don't have to worry anymore about certain Polaroids of me and a giant inflatable trout falling into the wrong hands. They're art, I tell you, art.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, the TV networks were trying to get Helms on camera to defend his position. Fine, said the senator, I'll go on your shows if you'll show the naughty bits in question. None of the networks bit at the chance. Yep, they'll defend to the death another's right to exhibit, but won't risk losing advertisers by actually exhibiting them.
Maybe the photos were too highbrow for network tastes, Maybe Helms should've talked to PBS. Or C-SPAN.
Helms' fellow C-SPAN stars, the House of Representatives, refused to back Helms' little art-for-gosh-sakes campaign, but the stink over naughty expression is far from over. In Laytonville, Calif., a battle rages over Dr. Seuss, whose book The Loraxhas been condemned as anti-logging. The Lorax, as you may recall, is a mossy little crank who harasses the enterprising Once-ler family as they harvest nature's bounty, the truffala tree, into oblivion.
Seuss' novella is on the second-grade reading list in the Laytonville Unified School District. Some of the kids started asking their logger daddies some hard questions about the smacking down of redwoods, and the anti-Seuss campaign was born. The Laytonville Once-lers are tree-bitin' mad, and want The Loraxoff the required reading list. Tree-loving Bolshevik propaganda and bleeding-sap liberalism, they say.
I'm surprised that they stopped with The Lorax.Seuss' recent manifesto, The Butter Battle Book,not only has nasty things to say about mutually assured destruction, but it's got a title to send Sen. Helms into a tizzy. I don't remember much about what exactly the cat did in the hat, but I can tell you this -- it wasn't pretty, and it wasn't Judeo-Christian.
And just what did the good doctor see in And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street? Unnatural acts involving green eggs and ham?
I may depict strange goings-on around coffee cups, but at least I know what color coffee's supposed to be. No green java and donuts for me, pal. I may not have a whip handle up my patoot, but I know what I like.
©1989 Randel Shard. First published in The Minnesota Daily on September 26, 1989