Last year, the right-wing Media Research Center launched an attack on an art exhibit on gay self-portraiture at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, with particular focus on one item: a video by artist David Wojnarowicz that includes a few seconds of an image of ants crawling over a crucifix. The Catholic League, for which MRC chief Brent Bozell serves as an adviser, soon joined the pile-on. The Smithsonian ultimately succumbed to the right-wing pressure and removed the video from the exhibit.
Now, the “Hide/Seek” exhibit has moved to a new venue, the Brooklyn Museum. And the manufactured outrage has begun anew.
Catholic League president Bill Donohue initially said he wouldn't he wouldn't fight the exhibit and the Wojnarowicz video, telling the New York Daily News, “We can't be like in a dog and pony show every time they show the stupid video.” Donohue apparently changed his mind, issuing a press release on the exhibit the same day the Daily News published his remarks. In the release, Donohue attacked the museum for hosting the exhibit and declared that Wojnarowicz, who died of AIDS in 1992, “died of self-inflicted wounds”:
The fact is that the artist who made the vile video died of self-inflicted wounds: he died of AIDS. The homosexual, David Wojnarowicz, hated the Catholic Church (had he lived by its teachings, he would not have self-destructed). He once referred to Cardinal John O'Connor as a “fat cannibal,” and labeled the Catholic Church a “house of walking swastikas.” Sounds like the words of a bigot.
Meanwhile, the MRC's Penny Starr, reporter for its “news” division, CNSNews.com, was back on the case as well. In a November 15 CNS article, Starr highlighted Catholic criticism of the Wojnarowicz video “depicting Jesus Christ on a cross with ants crawling over him,” described the “Hide/Seek” exhibition as “gay erotic” without attribution, and put “art” in scare quotes when describing previous Brooklyn Museum exhibitions.
Missing from Starr's report was any mention of the artist's intent regarding the 11-second shot of the ants on the crucifix. As The Washington Post reported in December:
Ants, for Wojnarowicz, were a mysterious stand-in for humanity and part of a lifelong fascination with the natural world that his friend, artist Kiki Smith, recalls was part of a charmingly boyish rapture with creepy, crawling things. When asked what he thought of God, he responded by wondering rhetorically “why ants aren't the things that destroy the world instead of people.” There is a host of theological possibility in that thought: Is God as indifferent to humans as humans are to ants? Should we love the small things of the planet as we hope to be loved by God?
But who needs nuance or comprehensive reporting when there's anti-gay outrage to manufacture?