A tale of two blasphemies

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 10: Conor Munro (R) joins a protest across the street from Dove World Outreach Center where Pastor Terry Jones had scheduled a Koran burning for tomorrow on September 10, 2010 in Gainesville, Florida. Jones has said that he would cancel the planned burning of Korans on Saturday if he was able to meet with the organizers building the Park51 mosque near Ground Zero. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

So we lived through the media circus related to the threat to burn copies of the Koran. I keep thinking back on that with a shudder. A reporter I know was wondering why a few religious groups hadn’t taken to the airwaves to denounce the threat. Because, of course, what the world needed was more people weighing in against the Koran burning. But that was the media environment a few weeks ago — religious and/or political groups sensing an opportunity for favorable coverage by riding the coattails of a media stunt. And reporters having a publication/broadcast-friendly story ripe for the picking.

I think we’re all a bit ashamed of the surface-level coverage we experienced.

But did you hear about the Colorado museum showcasing a piece of art by a Stanford professor? It hasn’t been big news, although it has been covered a bit. First a description of the art:

The piece, on display since Sept. 11 at the tax-funded Loveland Museum Gallery in Loveland, Colo., includes several images of Jesus, including one in which he appears to be receiving oral sex from a man as the word “orgasm” appears beside Jesus’ head.

It has triggered protests and even calls to police by critics asking for an investigation into whether it violates a Colorado law that protects children from obscenity, the Loveland Reporter Herald reported. The city attorney determined it did not.

That comes from Fox News, which is highlighting the art because it was attacked by a woman shouting “How can you desecrate my Lord?

I’m glad that Fox mentioned it was a taxpayer-funded museum but also that the city had determined the piece of art to be legal. These are both key issues. The woman who attacked the artwork was able to tear it but otherwise the damage was contained. The artist, Enrique Chagoya, had this to say about the attack:

Chagoya says he’s sad that his book and the First Amendment were attacked.

“Should we as artists, or any free-thinking people, have to be subjected to fear of violent attacks for expressing our sincere concerns? I made a collage with a comic book and an illustration of a religious icon to express the corruption of something precious and spiritual,” Chagoya told FoxNews.com. “There is no nudity, or genitals, or explicit sexual contact shown in the image. There is a dressed woman, a religious icon’s head, a man showing his tongue, and a skull of a Pope in the upper right corner of the controversial page. I did not make a picture of Christ. I used symbols as one would use words in a sentence to critique corruption of the sacred by religious institutions.”

Those institutions, he says, need to be criticized when they get corrupted and people have every right to dislike his criticism, just as he has a right to express it.

“Violence is the opposite of what Jesus, Mohammed or Buddha taught. I am amazed that some of the followers don’t adhere to the teachings. Agree to disagree and love thy neighbor,” he said.

I think the art sounds like something that I would find both cliched and blasphemous but I certainly oppose the attack on it. The woman who attacked it is from Montana — not a taxpayer to the city, for what it’s worth.

This story by Diane Macedo was good. I thought she emphasized the First Amendment much more than the blasphemy but it contained a lot of helpful information. This Denver Post story, on the other hand, de-emphasized both the First Amendment issues and the blasphemy. The description of the offending art was also pretty brief. It did explain one City Councilman’s objections to the art well, however.

Anyway, I bring this sad story to light just for a thought experiment. How would this story be covered if the Loveland government had brought in a piece of art showing Mohammed receiving oral sex? And how would this story be covered if an offended Muslim had committed violence against the art? Would coverage of the would-be Koran burner been different if he would have given the equivalent of the speech above? Would there have been calls for public officials to denounce the art? How high would those calls have gone? Why the difference? And speaking of differences in the two stories … did Newsweek‘s Jon Meacham attempt to mediate a draw-down with the artist? It’s all just interesting and worth considering the next time we have another media circus.

Print Friendly

  • Dave

    religious and/or political groups sensing an opportunity for favorable coverage by riding the coattails of a media stunt.

    I have to disagree with this part of your analysis. A religious group that publicly asked people not to burn a holy scripture could have been acting purely out of principle.

    Would coverage of the would-be Koran burner been different if he would have given the equivalent of the speech above?

    The question previous to this one is, could he claim Koran burning as art? In the instance, as religious art? Most religious art creates something rather than destroys it. Yes, I think the coverage would have been different had he presented it as art, but imho it would still have been a frenzy, perhaps with some voices on the side opposite to what they actually were.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Dave,

    Certainly they could and I would hope that everyone who condemned it did so on principle — and I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. It’s also true that the press release offices go into overdrive just as much as the reporters do.

    As for the other issue, whether it’s art or not isn’t so important as whether it’s *speech* or not. Of course, it’s also true that many artists, the type that destroy things, would say that they’re creating something, too. And that doesn’t even get into performance art, which is probably dangerously close to what the Florida dude was doing.

  • Jerry

    I bring this sad story to light just for a thought experiment. How would this story be covered if the Loveland government had brought in a piece of art showing Mohammed receiving oral sex?

    Or how about comparing the media shenanigans when it comes to covering Republican politicians pastors (Angle) versus Democratic ones (Obama)? My question is how much of the difference is due to financial incentives to exploit the sensational, how much reflects political bias such as the WSJ and Fox headlines about Democrats always being the most negative and how much reflects religious and other kinds of bias.

  • Donna

    >As for the other issue, whether it’s art or not isn’t so >important as whether it’s *speech* or not. Of course, it’s >also true that many artists, the type that destroy things, >would say that they’re creating something, too. And that >doesn’t even get into performance art, which is probably >dangerously close to what the Florida dude was doing.

    One could argue that this Colorado incident is performance art . The working woman, the ‘little gal’ taking on the artistic establishment with nothing but a crowbar and her convictions…. smashing the glass that priveleges an attack on One whom she loves.. does it get more bold and transgressive than that ?

    I wonder how many crowbars you can get with an NEA grant….

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Donna,

    I think a court would have a hard time viewing the destruction of other people’s property as performance art! But it is certainly bold and transgressive.

    Jerry, Yes — I can’t stand how the media covers the religious views of politicians. My worry, however, is that the media is too intrusive rather than not curious enough. But how different, really, was what Wright said than what many conservative pastors say about God bringing judgment down on the country because we permit abortion? Just much more incendiary language? Not that I expect the media to be fair about such things.

    Another thing I’ve been monitoring today — the media coverage of a big gay protest of the LDS (largely favorable) vs. media coverage of Angle’s pastor protesting the LDS (not favorable). Apparently . . . it’s okay to criticize the LDS for some things, but not for others. Is it too much to ask for just a bit more consistency?

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    Mollie, it seems to me that the media are both intrusive and incurious, which I do not think are contradictory impulses. That is, their interest is not in comprehension, but is instead a kind of voyeurism-by-proxy. OTOH coverage of Wright was highly colored by his presence in the Obama Distortion Zone, in which coverage seems to have to choose between unthinking deference and vicious rumor-mongering.

    There’s a not-entirely-religious right’s issue in this, because the 1st amendment makes no promises about the reaction of ordinary citizens to a sacrilegious print, whether or not one dares to call it art. Destruction of property is indifferent to what the property is, for the most part. Where it gets interesting is that the museum is not just publicly funded: the city owns it outright.

    OTOH, I like this phrase from the DP article: “…that some say shows Jesus Christ engaged in a sex act.” What, the reporter couldn’t tell?? Are there people out there who claim that it shows no such thing? The reporter sounds either (a) incredibly lazy, or (b) as if he’s trying to shift the blame for the blasphemy onto the religious people who are just seeing things. Fox at least should get a milli-kudo for giving the artist the space to say what he might have meant (even if in my opinion his statement isn’t very convincing).

    I would call attention to this editorial statement in the DP on the matter. It presents an interesting theory: that the museum curators would have been within their rights to refuse to show the work because it is offensive, but that the city council cannot overrule them without bringing the 1st amendment into play. I’m not sure I buy it, but there it is.

  • Jerry

    Jerry, Yes — I can’t stand how the media covers the religious views of politicians. My worry, however, is that the media is too intrusive rather than not curious enough. But how different, really, was what Wright said than what many conservative pastors say about God bringing judgment down on the country because we permit abortion? Just much more incendiary language? Not that I expect the media to be fair about such things.

    There’s a positive kind of intrusion: the honest desire too know the truth and report it fairly. Then there’s an assaultive kind of intrusion which desires to get a weapon to use to hammer the life out of an organization or person. Then there are some who don’t even care about a whiff of the truth but will make up or use rumors to attack and defeat someone they hate as we’ve seen with some anti-Obama hysteria.

    I suspect that you’re referring to the middle group that wants to use their position in the media to attack people and groups they disagree with.

    As to fairness, yes there are wingnuts on both political wings. And I also wish the media did a better job of even-handedly reporting on them.

  • jara

    Desecrating a religious symbol is a hate crime.

    Desecrating any symbol that represents a people – or that is held as sacred – is hate.

    It’s hate to burn the Koran.

    It’s hate to depict a civil rights leader doing something that defiles what he stands for.

    It’s hate to use the “Gay Pride” rainbow as an instrument of anti-homosexual sentiment.

    It’s hate to take a Christian fish symbol and turn it into a mocking symbol of Darwinian evolution.

    It’s hate to show Allah or Buddha or Jesus doing something that is an express perversion of what they taught.

  • Passing By

    will make up or use rumors to attack and defeat someone they hate as we’ve seen with some anti-Obama hysteria.

    …will make up or use rumors to attack and defeat someone they hate as we’ve seen with some anti-Bush hysteria.

    … will make up or use rumors to attack and defeat someone they hate as we’ve seen with some anti-Clinton hysteria.

    This game has been going on awhile now:

    Thomas Jefferson and Sally Henning.

    How many husbands did Andrew Jackson’s wife have, anyway?

    “Ma, Ma, where’s my pa? Gone to the White House, ha ha ha”

    It may be a bug inherent in democracy. It’s certainly a bug inherent in a free press. Or it could be a feature.

  • Dave

    jara, I must disagree with you in two particulars.

    Desecrating a religious symbol is a hate crime.

    It may express hate but, at least in American jurisdictions, it’s not a crime.

    It’s hate to take a Christian fish symbol and turn it into a mocking symbol of Darwinian evolution.

    That’s not hate, it’s a pointed reply in an ongoing, sometimes ill-mannered and occasionally dishonest dialogue.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X