KNIGHT: The radical art of deliberate offense

Decency haters work overtime at Christmastime

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In “Rules for Radicals,” Saul Alinsky advises leftist organizers to antagonize opponents. “The real action is in the enemy’s reaction,” he writes in his 1971 classic strategy manual. “The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength.”

The latest Alinsky-like assault involves a perennial tactic: putting sacrilegious or indecent imagery on display at taxpayer expense and then screaming “censorship” when people predictably object.

The National Portrait Gallery became the latest battleground this week when it featured a four-minute excerpt from “A Fire in My Belly,” a 1987 work by the late David Wojnarowicz, famous for his hate-filled diatribes against Christianity and the Catholic Church in particular. After the Catholic League and other groups complained, the museum withdrew the display.

Images included a crucified Christ with ants crawling over Him, and “homoerotic” and anatomically graphic images of naked men. You know, the stuff that sends certain folks at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) into ecstatic reveries.

The next Alinsky-style tactic was to assail the Catholic League for reacting to the well-placed kick in the gut.

Washington Post art critic Blake Gopnik, who rhapsodizes about art as long as it’s devilishly perverse, came out with derringers blazing on the front page of the Style section in a screed headlined “Museums shouldn’t bow to censorship of any kind.”

He used every trick in the book, so let’s deconstruct:

1. Portray the offensive work as harmless or even “traditional”:

“The irony is that Wojnarowicz’s reading of his piece puts it smack in the middle of the great tradition of using images of Christ to speak about the suffering of all mankind.”

Sure it does. Wojnarowicz once described the late Cardinal John O’Connor as “this fat cannibal from that house of walking swastikas” and “this creep in black skirts.”

Mr. Gopnik: “There is a long, respectable history of showing hideously grisly images of Jesus.”

Yes, but not in the cause of elevating sin to a subsidized “right.”

2. Raise the idea that standards would destroy great art:

“[C]ommon standards of decency … don’t exist, and shouldn’t in a pluralistic society.”

Really? That means smut merchants would set the tone for everyone, in every locale.

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