Calvin Freiburger

Smithsonian Scandal Raises Questions: What’s “Good” Art, and Why Should I Pay for It?

Posted on December 2 2010 12:00 pm
Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College. He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.

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Leftists want you to think this is what the Smithsonian uproar is about. Don’t buy it.

The Christmas season just wouldn’t be Christmas these days without government-sponsored desecration of images sacred to most Americans. By now you’ve probably heard about the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery’s charming new exhibit depicting, among other things, a bloody Jesus Christ covered in ants. That part of the exhibit has been removed, but it still features “male genitals, naked brothers kissing, men in chains, Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts, and a painting the Smithsonian itself describes in the show’s catalog as ‘homoerotic.’”

True to form, Media Matters is trying to defuse outrage over the controversy by repeatedly pointing out that while the Smithsonian may receive taxpayer dollars, this particular exhibit was funded privately. Here they highlight last night’s exchange between Sean Hannity and Democrat strategist Joe Trippi, who “tries to get Hannity to understand” that simple distinction:

TRIPPI: The money for this exhibit was all private foundations.

HANNITY: But I don’t agree with that analysis. It’s like saying, we fund the ability for them to open their doors every day. So they don’t get to open the door, except for the American taxpayer.

TRIPPI: The American taxpayer paid for the building and those kinds of things, but it’s an art museum, I mean – and this particular art exhibit is the influence of gay and lesbian artists on portraiture.

HANNITY: Fine. If they wanna have an art museum with this stuff, we shouldn’t pay to open their doors so they can put this type of stuff in there!

Hannity is right, and Trippi and Media Matters are wrong. Despite their implications, conservatives aren’t at all trying to deny where the exhibit’s funding comes from. Below the video, Media Matters links to their prior report on the scandal, which tries to make the case that the outrage is “manufactured” because the funding is private. And yet … they admit that both CNS News Penny Star and the Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell acknowledge the funding. (They did, however, catch Glenn Beck speaking imprecisely about it.)

Note to the Media Matters team: highlighting a particular detail that isn’t disputed anyway in no way proves that there isn’t a controversy, or that those who think otherwise are “manufacturing” anything. All it demonstrates is that you don’t think this sort of thing should be controversial. (Which, come to think of it, is a revealing window into your mindset. Thanks, guys!)

We the people fund art institutions for certain ends (more on what those ends are, and should be, in a bit). That means that we retain the right to decide whether or not those institutions’ actions are consistent with those ends, regardless of exactly how those actions are funded. So what if the exhibits themselves–and bringing them into the building–were funded privately? They’re still being hosted in a facility we did pay for. (And, of course, there’s the question of whether or not what the Smithsonian says about the funding is even true. Call me crazy, but I’m somewhat wary of taking at face value the word of the kind of people who would green-light this filth.) It’s a travesty that Hannity’s common-sense position is even controversial:

If we pay to open your doors, have some respect for the American taxpayer’s money.

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