Roger’s Rules

"You can't make it up" or "Haven't we been here before?"

When it comes to the National Endowment for the Arts, it turns out that those are not mutually exclusive possibilities. Back in the 1980s, when the word “transgressive” finally entered the lexicon of critical assessment as a term of praise, the NEA was the subject of fierce criticism when it transpired that some of their money — that is, some of your money — was going to support such “transgressive artists” (that’s “perverted weirdos” in plain English) as Robert Mapplethorpe, Andreas Serrano, Karen Finley, and Annie Sprinkle.

When Dana Gioia became chairmen of the NEA, he endeavored mightily to change all that. Mapplethorpe was out, Shakespeare was in.

But Dana is gone now. His seat is hardly cold, but back come the weirdos. An editorial in The Washington Examiner (hat tip Andy McCarthy) has the news. The NEA is distributing “stimulus” funds to such dubious enterprises as CounterPULSE, which, The Examiner reports

received $25,000 in stimulus funds, and which may be best known for its “Perverts Put Out,” a “long-running pansexual performance series.” The group urges guests, “Join your fellow pervs for some explicit, twisted fun.”

Looking for a Great Moment in Sophistry? Here’s one courtesy Patrice Powell, the NEA’s acting chairman.

“The NEA did not use [stimulus] dollars to fund any of the projects. [The grants] can only be used to provide salary support for staff positions or fees for previously-engaged artists and/or contractual personnel that are critical to an organization’s artistic mission and in jeopardy of being eliminated as a result of the current economic climate.”

Oh, I see. How do you spell “disingenuous twaddle”? We heard that a lot from NEA spokesmen back when they were funding the Mapplethorpe/Serrano/Finley brigade. “We aren’t actually supporting this ‘challenging’ ‘work’ which you are too bourgeois to appreciate. We are merely providing institutional” blah, blah blah. As the editorialist for The Washington Examiner notes,

In other words, you’re not paying for “Perverts Put Out.” You’re paying to make sure that CounterPULSE has enough money to produce “Perverts Put Out.”

A distinction, that is to say, without a difference.

Back in 1990, the “post-porn feminist” Annie Sprinkle, who has performed in more than 150 X-rated films and was for several years a prostitute, came to The Kitchen, a “cutting-edge” New York performance space, to reprise such classics from her repertoire as “Pornstistics,” “Sex Toys for World Peace,” and “Annie’s Cervix.” The Kitchen, it (almost) goes without saying, was the recipient of public funds from numerous entities. Early on in her performance, Miss Sprinkle, lying almost naked on a bed, urged members of the audience to come up to the stage to photograph her in any pose they liked. “Usually I get a lot of money for this,” she explained. “But tonight it’s government funded.” Déjà-vu, that is to say, all over again.