Emotional exhibitionism and the arts

A year ago I attended a breast cancer fundraiser, and decided it would be my last. It was held in a dark three-storied club on K Street; upon entrance, there were rose colored drink specials, the prerequisite pink ribbons, and plastic wrists bands given out with a message declaring, “Breast Cancer Sucks!” It’s a perfect illustration of why I care about many things, but hate causes. We can’t just grieve, or complain or make charitable contributions; we all need to become emotional exhibitionists, with “Never Forget” bumper stickers and “We Will Prevail” platitudes and pep rallies. Unless your feelings are public and posted online for the world to see, it’s as though they don’t count.

Which brings me to the latest culture war that’s gripping DC, with the Portrait Gallery yanking David Wojnarowicz's art video after receiving complaints from Eric Cantor and John Boehner. It’s a cheap and dirty trick for the GOP to score points, but in a twisted way, everyone wins; Boener and Cantor get to look like cultural heros to their already-sympathetic base (who probably won’t spend much time researching the issue), and Wojnarowicz's work gets more coverage than it ever would had this whole snafu never erupted.

Also, you get to see the DC art community truly galvanized, which happens about every three to six months. Although I agree wholeheartedly that taking down the art was wrong of the Portrait Gallery, I still can’t get on board the DC art community ire; something about it is just giving me flashbacks to condescending pink bracelets and $12 Breast-cancer-tinis. Maybe it’s an issue of choosing your battles. I have a long and growing list of things that I’m genuinely outraged about, from our lack of universal health care to Glenn Beck, but I can't add an unwatchable art video to the list. Something about this furor strikes me as a little too...self-congratulatory.