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Stephen Colbert Mocks GOP Self-Righteous Hypocrisy December 10, 2010

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Humor, Politics.

The National Portrait Gallery recently opened an exhibition called “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” that explores sexual differences in the making of modern American portraiture. (The exhibition is scheduled for October 30, 2010, through February 13, 2011.) Until a few days ago, the 105 works of art included “Fire in My Belly.”

“Fire in My Belly” is a four-minute, highly avant-garde 1987 video by David Wojnarowicz and Diamanda Galas about the cruelty, hypocrisy, and censorship of conservative “Christians” in their judgmental approach to AIDS. In Stephen Colbert’s summary, the video attempts “to equate the lonely suffering of Christ with the lonely suffering of AIDS patients.” The video opens with two brief clips showing ants crawling over a crucifix; one clip is four seconds long, the second 11 seconds long. I watched the entire video, more than once, and was not particularly impressed; but then again, the world was a different place 23 years ago.

A conservative advocacy group misleadingly calling itself the Media Research Center whipped up a conservative shitstorm over these “offensive” 15 seconds. House Speaker-designate John Boehner and House Majority Leader-designate Eric Cantor were among the conservatives quick to hop onto the outrage bandwagon, although staff members stated on December 9 that neither politician had seen the 15 seconds in question — in fact, neither politician has visited any of the “Hide/Seek” exhibition.

Eric Cantor visited Fox News to announce that the entire “Hide/Seek” exhibition is an “outrageous use of taxpayer money and an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season.” Flexing his soon-to-be-Majority-Leader muscles, Cantor added, “When a museum receives taxpayer money, the taxpayers have a right to expect that the museum will uphold common standards of decency. The museum should pull the exhibit and be prepared for serious questions come budget time.”

On November 30, the Smithsonian bowed to the conservatives’ pressure and removed “Fire in My Belly” from its exhibition.

The New Museum in New York has installed “Fire in My Belly” in its lobby. Until a few days ago, the video ran continuously in the front window space of a Washington, DC gallery called Transformer. When the Transformer protest-exhibition ended, two individuals took an iPad to the National Portrait Gallery on Saturday, December 4, and showed “Fire in My Belly” on their iPad. Officers from the D.C. Metropolitan Police took it upon themselves to ban the two protesters for life from the entire Smithsonian Institution.

If you are interested in seeing this video for yourself and are not within range of New York, click here; YouTube will ask you to confirm that you are older than 18, lest those 15 seconds of alleged blasphemy contaminate your innocence.

On December 8, Stephen Colbert responded to Mr. Cantor’s self-righteous threat to de-fund the National Portrait Gallery because of those 15 seconds with a wonderful monologue:

“This de-funding threat isn’t some cheap exercise in mindless censorship. It’s an anti-paradigmatic revolutionary work of conceptual art-banning. And, while its point of departure may be Senator Jesse Helms’s admittedly groundbreaking de-funding of the National Endowment of the Arts over Andres Serrano’s ‘Piss Christ,’ it’s not a derivative, ‘Ooh, I’m a Christian. I’m so offended!’ — because, as the only Jewish Republican in Congress, Cantor’s outrage on behalf of Christians and Christmas is a liminal journey into the cultural Ur-wound, exploding our narrow preconceptions of what it means to pander. He posits in a post-metaphys­i­cal world, ‘Is there recourse to intersubjective meaning?’ Sans artifice, each identity is just a senselessly differentiated iteration of routinized tropes. But Cantor’s meta-reification mirrors our own incontrovertible passivity, which thrusts back upon us, re-framed; and, in a Habermasian twist, we realize the final affirmative gesture of his solipsistic negation. Thus, Cantor’s art is about the art that isn’t there, making the inaccessible literally inaccessible.

“Or, maybe he’s just too hip for the room.”

If you’re too lazy to run for your dictionary, here are some of Stephen’s more difficult words:

Of or pertaining to a pattern, model, or typical example
Relating to the point (or threshold) beyond which a sensation becomes too faint to be experienced
“Ur-” is a combining form meaning “earliest, original,” taken from the ancient city of Ur (as in “Ur of the Chaldees”). “Ur-” is used in words denoting the primal stage of a historical or cultural entity or phenomenon, e.g., ur-civilization; urtext. (One transcriber thought he said verwunde, the German for “wound.”)
Concerned with abstract issues such as existence, causality, or the nature of being, time; highly abstract, subtle, or abstruse.
Comprehensible to, relating to, or used by a number of persons, as a concept or language.
The act of repeating; a repetition.
Any literary or rhetorical device, as metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony, that consists in the use of words in other than their literal sense; an instance of such a device
Making something real (such as, in computing, a data model) out of a formerly abstract concept. In logic, the fallacy of treating an abstract idea as if it were a physical object or process. For example: “Nothing is better than Brand X at doing Y.” “Fine: in that case, I’ll take nothing.”
Pertaining to the philosophy of Jürgen Habermas, who is devoted to revealing the possibility of rationality in modern institutions and in the human capacity to deliberate and pursue rational interests.
Concerned with the philosophical theory that only the self can be proved to exist.


1. Craig - December 11, 2010

I watched the clip — I found it boring, and hardly worth my time, but…

I’m intrigued by the conflict between Catholics and some Protestants who revere representations of Jesus on the cross while others, coming out of the Protestant revolution, consider them to be sacrilegious (I was raised in a Protestant family in which all those Catholic statues were considered to be “false idols” — I don’t recall why, exactly, but I do recall feeling as though scared the first time I set foot in a Catholic church and seeing all those statues)

One man’s sacred cow is sometimes another man’s sacrilege. Who has the stronger claim to being “offended” by the presentation of the object in question?

2. Mary W. Matthews - December 11, 2010

My staunchly Presbyterian parents felt much as yours did. Which is silly; I don’t think Roman Catholics worship St. Francis or St. Christopher, etc., when they pray to them to intercede with God/Jesus. I DO think conservatives who treat the Bible as being as perfect & “inerrant” as God are practicing bibliolatry!

I do think the stronger claim to being “offended” by the presentation of any given object, image, or set of images lies with the person who has actually SEEN it!

Craig - December 11, 2010

I completely agree.

My mother’s sister once asked if she could “practice” her evangelizing on me using the script from Kirk Cameron’s website. I finally had to stop her and tell her that I wasn’t a “Biblian,” so none of the premises were applicable to me.

It’s often amazing to me how ignorant many of those whom are what I call Biblians are of how the collection of writings in whichever version of the Bible they use came to be put together into what they call a “book.”

3. Humor: Masterpieces of American Wit and Humor » Our Humor Blog - December 12, 2010

[…] Stephen Colbert Mocks GOP Self-Righteous Hypocrisy « Half Wisdom, Half Wit […]

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