Sunday, October 30, 2005
...its premiere in the fall of 1998 at the off-Broadway theater, The Manhattan Theater Club. On May 1, 1998, an article in the New York Post headlined, "Gay Jesus May Star on B'Way." The article claimed that the play featured a Jesus-like figure "who has sex with his apostles." This instigated wide protest from the Christian right community, notably the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. They called the play "insulting to Christians" and vowed to "wage a war that no one will forget" against its production. President William A. Donahue sent letters to numerous public officials demanding "an immediate halt on public monies that support the Manhattan Theater Club."....Freedom of speech advocates, including NCAC, National Campaign for Freedom of Expression, New Yorkers for Free Expression, PEN American Center, People for the American Way, Visual AIDS, playwrights Christopher Durang, William Hoffman, David Henry Hwang, Tony Kushner, and author Judy Blume collaborated on a letter urging the Manhattan Theater Club to not cave in to terrorist-tactics.
A Madison, Wisconsin production of the play produced more opportunities for grandstanding on behalf of the sacred First Amendment:
McClurg said he could understand why protestors could see the play as offensive, saying it presents issues that pull away from their traditional views...."It makes them feel uncomfortable, it is not the vanilla God that they are used to,” McClurg said, adding Madison may have been chosen for this play because there are a large number of Catholics in the area. Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has received somewhere between two to three thousand mass produced post cards protesting the play, according to his communication director, Melanie Conklin.
“The more postcards we received, the more curious he [the mayor] got to see what the play was all about,” Conklin said.
Cieslewicz and City Council President Mike Verveer are planning on attending tomorrow night’s opening performance.
“No matter what the topic, he is not going to shut it down,” Conklin said. “It’s theater and the first amendment right.”
Then there was the famous Chris Ofili Holy-Virgin-Mary-in-elephant-dung art object exhibited at the Brooklyn Art Museum in 1999. The museum ponied up extra taxpayer dollars to protect this particular item
behind Plexiglas, with a velvet rope in front and a guard standing by to protect it from any angry viewers.
Now surely these stalwart defenders of the sacrosanct First Amendment, these impassioned guardians of our right to see what we want, are equally devoted to art that offends Muslims?
Well, as you may have guessed, they aren't.
An art exhibit that included photographs of nude Muslim women wearing only a head covering was taken down Thursday afternoon just hours after opening for public viewing at Harper College in Palatine.
Muslim students at the college protested to officials about the pieces on display in Building C.
Several students say the pieces — some showing young Muslim men with machine guns — were downright offensive.
“I think they should rip this down,” student Matt George said.
Another student, Hussein Ali, says a number of Muslim students at Harper now are thinking about leaving.
“The Muslim students are thinking about boycotting Harper because of this,” said Ali, 23, of Schaumburg.
Ahmad Basalat, 21, of Bartlett said the exhibit expressed hatred toward Muslims.
Salma Habed, 20, of Hoffman Estates said some of the pieces continued with the stereotype that Muslim women are oppressed.
“We go to school. We have careers. It’s not like we’re oppressed like some people feel for some reason,” Habed said.
Before the opening of the exhibit, neither Johnson nor other Harper officials had an opportunity to view the images.
Johnson and school officials ordered the removal or covering of the images until further notice because of the uproar.
“It was not the show that we thought we were going to get,” Johnson said, adding that he stands by Normandi’s artistic freedom....“We struck a reasonable compromise that we will temporarily cover the images,” Johnson said.
The question is: Why the culture's double standard? Why is art that offends Christians inviolate, but not art that offends Muslims?
It's a combination of things, I think. It's a genuine, ingrained, knee-jerk hatred of Christianity and its practitioners--which in turn makes all fellow haters of Christianity into allies. And, as well, I think there is a little bit of fear. Christophobes love to imagine (and portray) themselves as heroic figures risking "it all" against the troglodytic "fundie" hordes. But the confrontation with Muslims reveals this fantasy as nothing more than a pose. For all the culture's ubiquitous images of "violent" Christians--it's an almost iron rule that any television drama that includes both a self-identified Christian and a murder will inevitably reveal a cause-and-effect relationship between the two--everyone understands on the most primitive reptile-brain level that offending Muslims can get you killed, and not just television dead, but real dead.