The NEA's Savior: Censorship
by L. Brent Bozell III
March 20, 1997
The Republican Party collapse continues. Once slated for the ash heap of art history, the National Endowment for the Arts has overcome a lackluster GOP attempt to zero it out, and now hopes to get back to the everyday Washington pattern of unending budgetary growth.
How has this happened? How can members of Congress, Democrat and Republican alike, summon network bigwigs to Capitol Hill and lecture them about the need for V-chips and family-friendly programming, then turn around and fund the NEA, the Foundation for Filth? Maybe it's because the NEA, the center of so many struggles over "censorship," has benefitted from a healthy dose of self-censorship by its media supporters.
Last November, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) questioned NEA funding of a film distributor handling "patently offensive and possibly pornographic movies - several of which appear to deal with the sexuality of children." Hoekstra said the NEA gave $112,700 to "Women Make Movies," which distributes films like "Sex Fish," which is promoted as a "furious montage of oral sex, public restroom cruising, and well - tropical fish." Another offering, "BloodSisters," is said to reveal "a diverse cross-section of the lesbian [sado-masochistic] community." Three more films center on the sexual or lesbian experiences of girls age 12 and under.
Washington Times reporter Julia Duin reported the story, but where were the rest of the media? Their lack of coverage suggests, why, it's not their job to pass on scoops with a far-right troglodyte point of view. When Washington Post reporter Jacqueline Trescott announced the NEA's reprieve on the front page March 14, she didn't have space for a single conservative critique. Instead, she quoted Republican after Republican asking NEA chief Jane Alexander how they can help her fund the NEA, suggesting Alexander has no critics.
Rep. Hoekstra is one of those, and when you look at what the media's doing to him, you understand why many in the GOP have headed for the tall grass. Ever-boorish New York Times columnist Frank Rich began his March 13 column: "When it comes to a fixation on lesbian sex, even Howard Stern is a poor second to Pete Hoekstra, a Republican from Michigan. Mr. Hoekstra seems to have a curious obsession with sampling alleged lesbian porn financed by the NEA. Wouldn't it be less expensive for taxpayers if he joined a video store like everyone else?"
This is a clever trick: ignore the charge, attack the accuser. When the Rev. Don Wildmon attacked the NEA-funded film "Poison" in 1991, CBS reporter Rita Braver made sure viewers were told Wildmon hadn't seen the film he was condemning, while not telling viewers what was in it - a graphic homosexual-rape scene. When Hoekstra seeks to actually witness the porn taxpayers are funding, he's Howard Stern.
Rich also attacked Hoekstra this way: "Out of 9,000 recent NEA grants, the Congressman is focusing on a few dozen, most of which went to gay, minority or female recipients...Were his real purpose to investigate errant NEA grants - as opposed to creating scapegoats - wouldn't there be at least one mediocre, NEA-supported provincial orchestra on his hit list?" Now this is more than a little like Bill Clinton's 90-percent-of-our-donations-were-legal line. Rich and the other liberals don't want to focus on the day-to-day grantmaking of the NEA, because they have no desire to change its grantmaking in any way.
In 1990, then-private citizen Jane Alexander told Congress: "The family of art...produces ugly babies a well as beautiful ones, but we have to embrace all of that family, and we cannot throw any baby out with the bath water." But Alexander's NEA isn't taking the baby out and throwing away the bath water: it's soaking the baby in sewage.
There's also the hard facts of dollars and cents. Supporters claim that "the arts" are threatened by an NEA cutoff, whose budget is a drop in the federal bucket - $99 billion. But as Rep. Steve Largent has pointed out, even if you add to the NEA's $99 million another $246 million in spending by state and local governments, the total is completely dwarfed by $9.68 billion in private spending on the arts. Arts funding is almost untouched by an NEA cutoff. How can the Republicans risk putting entitlements in play, but not say "nay" to the NEA?
Whether the argument is over dollars or degenerates, the NEA surrender is a demoralizing sign of Republican weakness. Gay playwright Tony Kushner, an NEA favorite, declared in the New York Times: "Now I think if you're a Republican, you shouldn't be allowed to act. I think that art should be used to punish people, and I think it should be used to punish Republicans." The meltdown of the supposedly revolutionary Republicans suggests that it's not just the NEA-funded filmmakers who are into masochism.