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Ruben Bolling – Art/photo: GoComics.com

It’s always a kick to see liberals turning red, white and blue in defense of their personal constitutional rights. Such indignation, rhetoric and lofty speech. But it can be sheer torture listening to their convoluted understanding of larger issues such as pornography and the First Amendment.

I’ll pull an example from the vast bag of liberal contradictions: a comic series by artist Ruben Bolling, “Tom the Dancing Bug.” The upper panel – with satirical witticisms about kids celebrating achievements in “horrifically violent video games” at a “Cheez E. Chainsaw” restaurant, “where a kid can be a sadist” – seems a clever protest against the violence dumped on our kids from birth (I admit to covering my eyes when blood sprays in films – it’s grotesque). But there was a second half to his panel elsewhere that I missed at first.

In the second half, Bolling’s dastardly character “Cheez E. Chainsaw” mocks Supreme Court Justice Scalia, picturing him as permissive of the violence but willing to break down walls and arrest game makers should they include even a glimpse of a woman’s nipple.

Bolling’s beef is that Scalia and six other justices overturned the 2009 California ban on the sale of violent video games to minors. This may be morally wrong but constitutionally right, if there is such a thing. Decide for yourself.

Scalia (et al) also let stand a 2003 ban on child pornography in various forms, not other types of adult pornography. Bolling is greatly exaggerating when he portrays a comic Scalia raging against unclothed, adult women. It never happened, although he does make a good likeness of the justice.

Most commentators on Bolling’s website agreed that the court should have banned both a type of speech and art (in the video games), which is remarkable coming from artists. In theory the horrific violence, especially against women in these games, begins to make constitutional limitation look good, but there has to be another way. Conservatives may also find fault with the court’s refusal to let the state of California make its own decision over this.

What is Bolling’s complaint really about, though? I suspect Justice Scalia is singled out because of his clear and vocal support for religious rights and displays of religious heritage such as the Ten Commandments and public prayer. I could be wrong, but where are the six other justices who formed these decisions, and why is Chief Justice John Roberts not even mentioned? Cheez E. Chainsaw is strangely silent.

Clearly there’s way too much violence in American entertainment, and it’s making us sick. But almost no one calls for rewriting the Constitution over this. We’re asked instead to consider altering our own behavior to refrain from harming others with our creations, like driving a car. This is a freewill decision, and the outcome largely reflects contemporary mores and culture at any time.

"Carmegeddon" game/photo: Stainless Games

At the moment our culture glorifies both violence and sex, although you think people would be bored by now and want some new material. It’s also been presented incoherently, incessantly and in every variant and place. Wall Street and Hollywood may well use this as their motto: “If people will buy it, we’ll make some more.” So inspiring.

Yet this attitude influences many artists, and some openly admit it. Rather than argue over the qualities that make pornography, many in the art community have declared that like real estate, it’s all about location. In other words art is “art” if it’s in a gallery or a museum, or because they said so.

Jonathan Jones tells a story of 1,500 photos of nudes taken near the Tyne River as part of an art project. In a twist, they were stolen and sold (possibly by police) and passed around pubs where people amused themselves with them greatly. In a piece in London’s Guardian, Jones remarks on the controversy over whether these photos were classified as pornography or art. It all came down to where they were at the moment. Stolen and furtively viewed, it’s porn – but proudly on the museum wall, it’s high art.

This definition may have some substance if artists always use integrity and are sincere in their creative pursuits. But blatant exhibitionists, crass self-promoters and shock artists constantly cross that line, leaving the public wary, and with good reason.

When there is no discernable difference between traditional pornography and what is being served up in a gallery, viewers have a right to question it without being labeled illiterate hayseeds.

Ilona Staller

As an example, take Jeff Koons’ explicit photos of marital bliss with then wife and Italian porn star, Ilona Staller. That even shocked a few gallery gawkers who were expecting his Mickey Mouse balloon sculptures instead.

Back in the Reagan years (1989) the late Sen. Jesse Helms, possibly the most despised name in liberal circles, took on defining obscenity and pornography in art. In fact, the amount of sheer malice for Helms to this day may explain why no one has made much of a fuss since then. Helms was reacting specifically to Andres Serrano’s Christian attack piece “Piss Christ” and the fact that millions of offended taxpayers were forced to help fund it through the National Endowment for the Arts.

The movement expanded to a few other artists such as Robert Maplethorpe’s sadomasochistic photos and Annie Sprinkle, who brilliantly masturbated, urinated and displayed her cervix on stage with the aid of NEA funding. Somehow forgotten in the mists of reconstructed time are the 107 other senators and congressmen who supported Helms in his initiative.

Sen. Helms didn’t mince his reaction to Maplethrope and Serrano’s work, which he labeled “morally reprehensible trash” and compared to “ugly, nasty things” on a men’s room wall. And I’ve never seen anything even comparable to Annie Sprinkle’s “work” in women’s rooms, even in a truck stop.

Helms introduced a bill to bar federal grants for obscene art that ”denigrates, debases or reviles a person, group or class on the basis of race, creed, sex, handicap, age or national origin.” It was stopped in the House, although a few restriction were applied, which the NEA was to decide on itself. Well at least Helms started a “dialogue,” although it’s been an unpleasant one which is ongoing.

In a show of support for these artists and the NEA, the Cocoran Gallery, Washington D.C., sent out a poll to well-known artists, academics, gallerists and writers. Only one respondent of 22, the late William F. Buckley, approved defunding this type of art. The other representatives seemed unable to conceive that someone might rationally object to paying for anything they wanted to do. Strange.

The past bullying and religious bigotry of the NEA has not been forgotten by many conservatives and is a point of contention every time funding for the arts is discussed. It would be great if the NEA would grow up someday and be nice to everyone. If the tolerance that is now de rigueur in the art world were applied equally to conservatives, maybe people would want to give the National Endowment for the Arts money again.

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