What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Andres Serrano, Martyr

"Attack on 'blasphemous' art work fires debate on role of religion in France"

First reaction: well, it's about time somebody gave that thoroughly undistinguished piece of ideological schlock the trashing it so richly deserves. Too bad they didn't make a better job of it. (As I understand it, "Piss Christ" was far from "destroyed" in the attack - just slightly damaged.)

Second reaction: oh, crap. The all-but-forgotten Andres Serrano has now been granted another fifteen minutes of fame. And the remains of "Piss Christ" will probably soar, in cash value, far beyond the undamaged original. (I mean, it's not like anybody cares what the thing actually looks like - this is conceptual, not visual "art" - and the attack way ups the conceptual ante, here.)


Third reaction: maybe the attackers can argue that their attack was, itself, a piece of performance art...

Hat tip to Paul, for e-mailing the article.

Comments (34)

Though, at the same time, is there really anyone in the world so great a fool as to spend his own cash for this "art" on newly upped "value"? So, obviously, the taxpayer must be forced to buy it.

I thought only Muslims were violent in their reaction to religious insults.

Well, the Muslims would have taken hammers to Serrano himself.

Denny, if you can't tell difference between destroying a piece of offensive "art" and murdering people and destroying property wantonly, then you are failing to discriminate two shades of grey that are pretty far apart on the color spectrum. But you of course can tell the difference. Your problem isn't that you can't recognize the difference, your problem is that you are aren't trying to describe the situation accurately. You are working, with tenacious mendacity as are all of our multicultural elites, to sustain the illusion that there is some kind of moral equivalence between Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism. You are saying "See, there is religious violence by Christians as well as by Muslims" as though there wasn't an enormous qualitative difference in the kinds of actions that you are conveniently lumping together as "violence". I hope your side keeps this up, quite frankly. More people are starting to see right through this kind of facile equivalence, and this is precisely why Western liberals are starting to lose control of the political narrative over Islam.

I like how the article quoted the gallery as saying the photos had undergone a "kind of inquisition." Nice touch. See also: No actual artwork was harmed in the making of this protest (contra Northern Nigeria at the moment.)

Although I have no love for others destroying peoples' property.

"An Inquisition". My God what baloney! What a complete and utter refusal to talk about the world as it really is. This is not even remotely about censorship. It is about a set of conditions that have emerged in the west where Traditional Christians have fewer and fewer reasons to respect the modus vivendi being imposed on them by an aggressive secularist multiculturalist elite. The collective decision of the art world and the institutions that sustain it to enculturate and enshrine works of art that deface images that are revered by Christians. The decision by curators and artists and critics to continually promote these artworks and project the aura of cultural value upon them is an act of cultural aggression against the Christian society at large. Now, many Christians have complained; they have asked that these works not be displayed in public, they have asked that they not be financed from the public largesse. These entirely reasonable appeals to the nominally "pluralistic" attitudes of the artworld have availed nothing, and have gotten the Christians who complain harrangued with charges of "censorship" and stifling "free speech". This little dance has been going on for decades. Now, 2011, cue the cultural emergence of Islam. You deface their holy book, not in a public setting but as private act, and they will make someone pay with blood. Not only that, but the secular Western elites will take coercive action against legitimate expressions of anti-Islamic free speech. So what does a traditional Catholic do? He knows what gets results now; the elites won't listen even to reasonable requests from traditionalist Christians. But he will fold like a cheap suit the minute some Muslim threatens with violence. No group of people can be expected to continue to both tolerate this absurd double-standard and at the same time respect the modus vivendi in the society at large.

I often wonder just how many people _are_ stupid enough to fall for the cheap equivalences. In this case the Christians went so far as to do something illegal, an act of vandalism. Untenured, are we perhaps too sanguine if we believe that Joe or Jane Secular College Student, brains carefully pre-programed in the public school system for twelve years, would reject the moral equivalence to Muslim mobs that tear UN workers limb from limb? I don't know. Joe and Jane can be pretty doggoned childish and shallow, not to mention mentally sheep-like. If the equivalence were intoned at them in an impressive manner by an authority figure, I think they might take it hook, line, and sinker.

Heresy has no rights, neither does blasphemy!

Lydia, they do take it hook line and sinker because there are certain intellectual boundaries that one cannot cross without placing oneself outside the space of "acceptable" opinion. For example, you may only Islam if you qualify your criticism by first announcing a general condemnation of extremism in all its forms. And, like a pious member of the white educated class, you must toss off a reference to the inquisition or the crusades, thereby indicating that you don't really think any comprehensive conception of the good is inherently any better than any other. You may not, however, suggest that there is something inherent in Islam itself such that it can only be authentically expressed in an extremist manner. You can only earn the right to criticize Islam if you first think like this: "Muslims think we should kill homosexuals, no questions asked? Well, conservative Christians won't grant them marriage rights. See! No difference!" Until people start seeing this mendacity for exactly what it is, things won't improve.

A little background that's not (as far as I can tell) in the article but runs on the French-speaking internet (while the MSM derides "fundamentalist Catholics", as if the outrage could only come from religious fanatics):

What most shocked the protesters was the fact that the exhibition was partly financed by the city council, which laughed off a petition signed by at least 80 000 people asking that the work be removed, and the subsequent (peaceful) demonstration, which involved about 1000 protesters (quite a bit for a city like Avignon). None of that appeared in the papers.

We don't actually know who axed the picture. It could very well be a publicity stunt (according to French police, the two men who did the deed were not masked and got into and out of the exhibit freely--sounds suspicious even without a penchant for conspiracy theory). Or it may be a political non-religious attack, as in Sweden on the same work a few years ago.

The most shocking detail, however, is that a man was recently condemned by a French court to three months in prison and a large fine for filming himself urinating on a Quran. However, the organization which took the Lambert gallery to court over this provocation was actually fined 5000 euros for moral damage+3000 euros worth of court fees.

Double standards in France for muslims and Catholics are much worse than in the US-- I've lived in both countries.

A very interesting site! Thank you.

"I think they might take it hook, line, and sinker."

@Lyida: Considering that most folks are probably more worried about pandas and polar bears than they are about all the suffering in Africa...

@Jane - Thanks for the insight.

I actually liked "Piss Christ"; so did some nuns, if I recall correctly.

@John H.:

Sister Wendy = "some nuns?"

She divorces "Piss Christ" from the actual intentions of its creator and then goes on to express qualified approval for what she imagines it *could* mean, in some other possible world, quite remote from our own. "It is what you make of it," she says.

To which I can only reply: *No, you silly woman. It isn't.

Sr. Wendy's analysis effectively denies that any symbolic expression has an objective meaning. Imagine someone who cam along saying that "Birth of A Nation" was not a white supremacist movie, because when properly recontexualized it served merely to communicate the frenzy and the brutality of race relations during the reconstruction. Someone who said this could only be a)mendacious in the extreme b)experiencing an almost autistic inability to decode the semiotics of that film, or c)an intellectually frivolous postmodernist.

Have any of you *read* what Serrano had to say on the topic? http://www.communityarts.net/readingroom/archivefiles/2002/09/shooting_the_kl.php

I have always felt that my work is religious, not sacrilegious. I would say that there are many individuals in the Church who appreciate it and who do not have a problem with it. The best place for Piss Christ is in a church. In fact, I recently had a show in Marseilles in an actual church that also functions as an exhibition space, and the work looked great there. I think if the Vatican is smart, someday they'll collect my work.
Look at my apartment. I am drawn to the symbols of the Church. I like the aesthetics of the Church. I like Church furniture. I like going to Church for aesthetic reasons, rather than spiritual ones. In my work, I explore my own Catholic obsessions. An artist is nothing without his or her obsessions, and I have mine. One of the things that always bothered me was the fundamentalist labeling of my work as "anti-Christian bigotry." As a former Catholic, and as someone who even today is not opposed to being called a Christian, I felt I had every right to use the symbols of the Church and resented being told not to.

By the admission of the artist, the work was not intended to be blasphemous.

Also, Untenured, ironically "Birth of a Nation" was not intended to be a white supremacist film. Hence why Griffith directed "Intolerance" in 1916, which attacked prejudice. Rather, it was a depiction of the horrors of Reconstruction.

Yes, I have read those comments, and they could only appear convincing to someone who is already, at some level or another, a postmodern personality who can detach himself from his own deep moral or metaphysical committments and can adopt the pose of a distinterested observer. I am not such a personality and no such self-alienation is either possible or even virtuous in my view. Besides that, these remarks reveal that Serrano is deeply confused about the way that symbols and symbolic objects work. If he thinks he can take a piss on a crucifix, and then by an act of mental stipulation and post hoc hermeneutics remove the offensiveness from his actions, then he is an unserious person who does not really understand the power of symbolism. The meaning of the action is determined to a large extent by the objective nature of the action he performed, quite apart from how he chooses to interpret that action or attempt to subsequently redescribe it.

It's pretty obvious to me that at some level Serrano is simply lying. But if he really had convinced himself that this is not offensive because it has something to do with his "Catholic obsession," then he's an even sicker person than the work of art in itself reveals. Perhaps he thinks Christians should be honored or flattered by an obsession that led him to urinate on a cross and display the result as "art"? This has so many unpleasant overtones that it doesn't bear thinking about.

@John H.: many thanks for the inadvertently hilarious link. I must admit that I had, hitherto, missed that particular interview.

I wonder what you make of Serrano's "Ejaculate in Trajectory" series...

ironically "Birth of a Nation" was not intended to be a white supremacist film. Hence why Griffith directed "Intolerance" in 1916, which attacked prejudice. Rather, it was a depiction of the horrors of Reconstruction.

Dixon's notorious trilogy of the Reconstruction era: The Leopard's Spots, The Clansman (became the film The Birth of a Nation), and The Traitor feature gross and perverse caricatures of African Americans, praise for the Ku Klux Klan, and defenses of lynching. They are among the most offensive novels in American literature. Riots ensued in New England when "Birth . . ." was shown. His views on Reconstruction were as warped as everything else, because, you know, blacks voting is the violation of all that is decent in the world. His movies and the infamous "Dunning School" are why most people think Reconstruction was a horror visited on the South, which is without basis unless allowing blacks to vote is a horror inflicted upon the South, which they believed at the time. He made Intolerance to try to balance out his image as a virulent racist long after he'd become wealthy by dramatizing his racist and racialized political views.

Okay, only one more potshot and then I'm out. Let's conduct a thought-experiment. A black family moves into a poorish white neighborhood. Joe redneck runs the stars and bars up the flagpole the next day. He says he did not "intend" to offend anyone; he was just reaffirming his southern heritage and doesn't view his action as racist. Who buys this? Anyone? Now what makes Joe redneck's symbolic action different from Serrano's? Neither says they "intended" to offend anyone despite the obviously offensive connotations of the action they performed. The difference is that Joe Redneck doesn't now how to cover his tracks by emitting dense clouds of artworld rhetoric. Why can't Joe do this? Joe is a poor white. Serrano is an educated, culturally empowered elite. Joe is not one of the tribe. Serrano is. And now the big irony: Whether offensiveness is in the intent or the act is, for the liberal, dependent upon who has the power. And, for them, the whites and Christians and men have all the social power and must be deconstructed, hemeneuticized, and so forth. Only they can be truly "racist", only they truly have the power to "offend". But of course this is a social paradigm that is 50 years out of date. They control the culture. They are the ones with all the power, and they are the one's abusing it. But they cannot see it because their race/gender/culture obsessions have blinded them to the reality about how social power is truly distributed.

Mark: I wonder if the "caricatures of African Americans" in "Dixon's notorious trilogy" could possibly be as "gross and perverse" as those to which we're regularly treated by Hollywood & the rest of the MSM today.

It seems that Dixon was largely responsible for popularizing the myth of disproportionate black-on-white rape.

How fortunate we are that such unpleasant and dangerous stereotypes have now been replaced by new, improved, and perfectly harmless stereotypes, thoroughly sanitized for our viewing pleasure.

Steve: I think it beyond doubt that we are fortunate today to be beyond those stereotypes. There must be some middle ground between denying the gross and perverse facts that happened, and saying they still happen or that they represent a corruption of our system of government itself or national character itself. On the latter, I am on the side that says it is NOT essential to our system or characterize the nation as can be seen by my comments in the thread "Age of Revolutions," now underway.

Claiming that The Birth of a Nation was anything other than a hateful racist screed that defends and justifies things including lynching is an abominable reactionary judgement. That some may think it somehow similar to being subjected to Lady Gaga's infusion into the popular culture perhaps should volunteer to be lynched.

Being reactionary is not anything good. Those think acknowledging facts as they happened will necessarily lead to acknowledging the worst forms of attempts at redresses such as reparations should have some more faith in the truth and the human ability to comprehend it. These are not abstract questions. If you think the fact that many blacks are not mindful of the fact that many Conservatives and Libertarians buy into the idea that Reconstruction was ipso-facto a bleeding-heart liberal scheme akin to the War on Poverty that never should have been tried doesn't affect their view of us, you'd be mistaken. In fact there is reason to doubt the judgment of those so inclined to think so.

Now it may be that ignorance of one's past is a saving grace after all, and the wounds of the past will simply heal with time. If it happens that that process can continue until no one cares and we've moved on I'm all for the public forgetting it. But to the extent that these same people who decry these excesses can't help themselves from trotting out tired and naive justifications for all this that hasn't yet happened. As long as the reactionists insist on telling us how wrongly accused and misunderstood the most egregious ideologues of the past were, to that extent we're not there yet. I don't see what's wrong with simply pointing out the truth that The Birth of a Nation was responsible for the perpetuation of ideas more hateful even than most people can grasp today, and that, yes, it is worse and qualitatively different than what we're subjected to today, as bad as it may be. I would doubt the judgement of those who say otherwise, as understandable as the "can't we just move on" attitude may be. As much as I hate the motives and methods of the campus "racial reconciliation" movements because of their politics and goals, I can't help but wonder if they aren't enabled and encouraged in their efforts by reactionaries that justify the unjustifiable. But I also realize it is the same as it has ever been and will always be.


I'm really enjoying your comments here at W4, but I think you tend to come on a bit too strong sometimes. A couple of points:

1) I'll still never forget the time I first saw Birth of a Nation with a friend in Hyde Park (we were both students at the University of Chicago). We sat there stunned. Stunned both at the obvious "hateful racist screed" that we were watching, yes, but also at its power. One cannot talk about the history of film without giving Griffith's film its due. No less a goofy liberal than Roger Ebert has written, I think, one of the best reviews of the film which is worth checking out (part of his "Great Movies" review series -- for some reason it doesn't appear to be on his website but you can find it in the bookstore). Here is just a taste:

Yet the film is an unavoidable fact of American movie history, and must be dealt with, so allow me to rewind to a different quote from James Agee: "The most beautiful single shot I have seen in any movie is the battle charge in The Birth of a Nation. I have heard it praised for its realism, but it is also far beyond realism. It seems to me to be a collective dream of what the Civil War was like."

I have just looked at the battle charge again, having recently endured the pallid pieties of the pedestrian Civil War epic Gods and Generals, and I agree with Agee. Griffith demonstrated to every filmmaker and every moviegoer who followed him what a movie was, and what a movie could be. That this achievement was made in a film marred by racism should not be surprising. As a nation once able to reconcile democracy with slavery, America has a stain on its soul; to understand our history we must begin with the contradiction that the Founding Fathers believed that all men (except black men) were created equal.

Interesting no? He goes on to praise the film for its narrative power and technical excellence.

2) Also, let's not forget that although Griffith was a racist, his ideas about Reconstruction were quite popular at the time, including with a certain Priceton historian who would go on to become the most powerful man in the world. So in one sense, Steve is right -- Griffith was like our modern artists who unreflectively absorb the prevailing ideas around them and parrot them when they make political art. The difference between Griffith and many of today's filmmakers is that Griffith had 10x the talent.

3) Finally, while I myself am not a reactionary, I tend to hang out with a lot of them in the blogosphere and enjoy their company (many simply seek the truth in our crazy modern world). However, conservative Catholics will often get called reactionaries by their liberal enemies -- in those cases I'm happy to adopt the label ;-)

Jeff, I have given Griffith "his due" repeatedly on all the points you mention, so it is ironic you think you are telling me something I don't know. As I've said before, "The Birth of a Nation" made Hollywood. It is irrelevant to anything I've said. Hitler made the trains run on time. So? And do you not realize that I was speaking in the context of a particular form of reactionism? You sound as if the reactionary that defends Stalin is of the same category as a reactionary who defends Cuban cigars.

Here is wisdom. You can know all you need to know about this disagreement if you understand these lines from Cymbeline, a Shakespearean play. Belarius, is an old man who has brought up the king's two sons, and he explains how he used to tell stories to the boys and how each would respond to the telling. Of the older boy, Polydore, Belarius says:

When on my three-foot stool I sit and tell
The warlike feats I have done, his spirits fly out
Into my story: say 'Thus, mine enemy fell,
And thus I set my foot on 's neck;' even then
The princely blood flows in his cheek, he sweats,
Strains his young nerves and puts himself in posture
That acts my words. The younger brother, Cadwal,
Once Arviragus, in as like a figure,
Strikes life into my speech and shows much more
His own conceiving.

There are two ways of reading a book, or hearing a story. Two ways that correspond to the two different ways human beings respond to things. Lincoln put it in terms of "one who feels the lash on his back" in sympathy. You want me to be more detached. It ain't going to happen. I can deal with reactionaries as well as anyone because I can accept people as they are better than most. But that doesn't mean I accept calling good what is evil. A certain degree of academic detachment is necessary because it is required to truly know something. If you think I don't understand the attraction of a whole lot of evil things you're mistaken. If you don't think I'm detached enough to know the intricacies of the views of those I disagree with you're mistaken also. But moral detachment is a whole different thing, and is a moral fault. Wise people don't confuse the two.

It's fine you hang out with reactionaries. My crowd isn't so reactionary because my crowd in God's providence includes people who have actually suffered, unlike the reactionaries who typically have not. They are not as inclined to be as morally detached as those who have not. And the judgement of those who have suffered as far as I can tell is a damn site better than those who have not, certainly than those who whine about the good circumstances that they've known. Apologies to your friends Jeff, but don't expect the sort of detachment you're asking from me any time soon. Nothing good comes from that sort of detachment, however comfortable it may be. Seeking the truth is to accept discomfort and living with it. I look at history in its totality, and I don't leave anything out. The former pastor and devout Baptist Thomas Dixon Jr wrote the book and screenplay that became "The Birth of a Nation." That what he did was quite evil can be seen easily enough by what he justified and endorsed


According to Wikipedia, "nearly 3,500 African Americans were lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968." It seems that the last documented lynching of African Americans, based on unproven charges of robbery, murder & rape, took place in 1930.

Some of those lynched were totally innocent of the crimes with which they were charged. And even those who were guilty were entitled to due process of law.

There's no doubt about it: lynching was a terrible thing.

But I hope that you'll forgive me for thinking that, in comparison to the going rates of black-on-white murder and rape in America today, it's a bit of a puzzle why so many are still so preoccupied with this interesting historical footnote.


Anyone who is going to quote an obscure Shakespeare play to me to make their point is O.K. in my book. However, given your fierce moral position as staked our here:

"My crowd isn't so reactionary because my crowd in God's providence includes people who have actually suffered, unlike the reactionaries who typically have not. They are not as inclined to be as morally detached as those who have not. And the judgement of those who have suffered as far as I can tell is a damn site better than those who have not, certainly than those who whine about the good circumstances that they've known. Apologies to your friends Jeff, but don't expect the sort of detachment you're asking from me any time soon. Nothing good comes from that sort of detachment, however comfortable it may be."

I wonder how you would answer Steve Burton's quite sensible question in his last comment. I would go further than Steve and argue that the going rates of black-on-black crime, not to mention black-on-white crime are moral outrages that demand our sympathy, judgment, and maybe even reactionary wisdom concerning old-fashioned policing (including the appropriateness of acknowledging racial differences in the criminal proclivities of different populations) and law and order. But that is a subject for another day...

How about answering my question, which I've already posed or strongly hinted at? Namely, how would my accepting that going along with the fiction that "Birth of a Nation was not intended to be a white supremacist film," and that it was a true "depiction of the horrors of Reconstruction" do _any_good_whatever_?

You are objecting to my going along with a risable fiction based on a calculation the likes of which I eschew. I judge things on a case-by-case basis as to their truth. Is there any other way you'd advise me to use? I did not bring this up because I like to talk about lynching. I would never have brought it up except in the context of objecting to its denial. Do you really mean to tell me that no one here would object to a Holocaust denial just because it was a falsehood? Really? The "strong moral position" I've staked out is that the truth matters? BTW, as it happens that "last documented case" happened in the town where I was born and went to high school.

Why all the political calculation? Does insisting on the truth of the Holocaust fix one's position on Palestinian resettlement? Is that how this works now?

BTW, the most shocking cases of lynching happened in the 1890's, didn't necessarily involve hanging. Some had their eyes put out with hot tongs first, some were flayed alive, many were burned alive. There was a new ideology driving all this at the time that is little known.


In case you misunderstood me, I fully support Untenured's comment from 9:18 PM and reject John H.'s claim that the film Birth of a Nation "was not intended to be a white supremacist film." Of course it was intended to be a white supremacist film and only someone like Serrano in the grip of post-modern clap-trap would deny such a truth (which I think was Untenured's point).

But Steve Burton's slightly mischievious point in response to your perfectly reasonable comment, which I whole-heartedly support, is that today it seems as if the only outrage our liberal elites seem to muster is for the crimes of the past (or current crimes) against minorities -- point to today's disproportionate violent minority crime (or the injustices/crimes committed against whites in places like Rhodesia or South Africa) and you are quickly branded a racist.

I also was trying to defend Griffith the film artist, despite his racism, much as someone might defend Ezra Pound, despite his anti-semitism; but that is a more complicated and off topic subject much I may have to take up sometime soon over at my own blog.

I wonder what you make of Serrano's "Ejaculate in Trajectory" series...

Would not have an in principle objection to the materials. I think graphic imagery is a very powerful way to make points. My favorite director/artist is Takashii Miike, particularly his films Visitor Q and Izo; I guess I'm not very conservative in these matters, even though...

...I'm a reactionary in other matters. I think Reconstruction was an unmitigated disaster, and personally wouldn't associate the Confederate flag with racism. The War of Separation (which was not a civil war) was primarily about the South refusing to subsidize the development of Northern industry; tariffs count. As for slavery, I'll just point you to Calhoun's "Slavery a Positive Good" - I do not agree with the thesis that it was good, but I agree with his claim that Southern slaves were better off than Northern wage slaves.

@John H.: "I think graphic imagery is a very powerful way to make points."

Well, indeed.

But do you think that making "points" has anything much to do with aesthetic merit in the visual arts?

Looking at Serrano's stuff, I find no more of specifically *visual* interest than I find in the average Hallmark card. The only reason it attracts more attention than that average Hallmark card is because of the aggressively transgressive conceptual frame: piss, shit, semen &c spattered all over the effing place.

And the more one reads of his chatter, the more obvious it becomes that there's no underlying subtlety that one is missing: the guy is precisely the pretentious git that he appears to be at first glance.

I'm not sure that aesthetic value supervenes *only* on the sensory qualities of the art. For instance, some body types are aesthetically pleasing in our culture that are not in other cultures. That being said, I don't think artistic and aesthetic values are identical, and I'm inclined to think that artistic value depends in part on what function the art is serving. If the artist is aiming to make a point, then I think the art's success in that should be considered in its evaluation. I'm not sure I could offer any general criteria for what makes a thing art, though; I'm not even sure there is one.

As for "Piss Christ", I really do think the work is ambiguous in itself, apart from Serrano's purposes. That said, I can certainly understand why taxpayers shouldn't be compelled to support it.

@John H.:

"I'm not sure that aesthetic value supervenes *only* on the sensory qualities of the art."

Nor am I.

"For instance, some body types are aesthetically pleasing in our culture that are not in other cultures."

Standards of sexual attractiveness certainly differ from culture to culture.

"That being said, I don't think artistic and aesthetic values are identical..."


"...and I'm inclined to think that artistic value depends in part on what function the art is serving."

Could be, though the word "function" in this context is just the thing to get my back up. This claim needs lots more description.

"If the artist is aiming to make a point, then I think the art's success in that should be considered in its evaluation."

Talk about weak claims - but even this isn't at all obvious.

"I'm not sure I could offer any general criteria for what makes a thing art, though; I'm not even sure there is one."

Again - nor am I.

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