No Censorship of the Arts! (Unless We Trust You)

NEA funding has always been controversial, since there are critics -- I count myself among them -- who believe the government should not be funding the arts at all. To avoid controversy that emerged from Serrano’s work and Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic photography, the NEA allocated funds to state and local arts agencies so there would be somewhat less chance controversial decisions would emerge.

But that is changing with the Obama team. The stimulus package, for example, includes an additional $50 million for the arts, presumably to maintain employment in this field. The Examiner, however, points out that seven of the groups receiving this NEA funding had representatives on the Obama campaign’s Arts Policy Committee.

In what seems like the very distant past, the NEA explained that it could not interfere with the artworks of those who received grants from the agency. Dana Gioia, former NEA chairman, said “the NEA does not dictate arts policy to the United States.”

Of course, under President Obama that is precisely what it does. Is a culture czar far-fetched, one who assures us that the arts are needed to enhance presidential actions? Is the Obama team setting the stage for its own Leni Riefenstahl? Where are the artists who celebrate their adversarial role?

Oprah Winfrey recently produced a video urging Americans to take a “presidential pledge” by volunteering “to make a difference.” The lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers says, “I pledge to be of service to Barack Obama.”

Where is artistic defiance when you need it? The comments by the arts community are dripping with hypocrisy. Artistic expression in the Obama era appears to be little more than a compliant political instrument. 1984 may be a quarter of a century in the past, but the sentiments in this book indicate it is back to the future as Obama pays artists to propagandize on his behalf. It is hard to believe this is happening in the United States with the willing acceptance of the artistic community, but there you have it. The ghost of Hermann Goering lives in the Obama White House.