Right Up in Arms Over Stimulus Money for ’Porn’

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday August 3, 2009

From Big Bird to Mapplethorpe, federal funding for arts and culture has long been a soft target for right-wing pols and pundits looking to score easy points.

The politics surrounding stimulus monies are no different, now that funds have been allotted to the National Endowment for the Arts, which has been subjected to broadsides and threats of de-funding from the right.

That venerable tradition is in full force once again, which is perhaps no surprise considering that what some regard as obscenity, blasphemy, or pornography might be defended by others as artistic expression.

A July 31 Fox News acknowledged that the bulk of the $80 million in stimulus funds the NEA received
is going to "needy artists nationwide, and most of the money is being spent to help preserve jobs in museums, orchestras, theaters and dance troupes that have been hit hard by the recession."

That $80 million comes from a total package of $787 billion, the Fox News item says, before the article goes on to condemn the NEA's support for "pornographic" offerings such as an adult horror film shown at San Francisco's Frameline Theater, which is a gay-themed art cinema house that hosts an annual film festival.

The Frameline Theater was given $50,000 of stimulus money, a sum equaling one tenth of one one hundred and sixtieth of the money meant to be distributed by the NEA.

Left unclear in the article was whether or not the money went toward any screenings of the "pornographic" film mentioned by Fox News, a film titled "Thundercrack," which the article noted was described as "the world's only underground kinky art porno horror film, complete with four men, three women and a gorilla."

The article did offer a quote from Frameline director K. C. Price, whop wrote in an email that, "The grant is not intended for a specific program; it's to be used for the preservation of jobs at our media arts nonprofit organization over the next year during the economic downturn."

The article also cited another San Francisco arts outfit, CounterPULSE, which programs a "long-running pansexual performance series" that is advertised with an invitation to "join your fellow pervs for some explicit, twisted fun."

The article said that CounterPULSE was the recipient of a $25,000 grant.

The article quoted the vice president for policy for a group called Citizens Against Government Waste, David Williams, who would rather not have seen a stimulus effort at all.

"When you spend so much money in a short amount of time," huffed Williams, "you're going to have nonsense like this, and that's why the stimulus should never have been done in the first place."

Added Williams, "When taxpayers see this, they realize that's just a bunch of hot air."

The chat participants at right-wing e-conversation site FreeRepublic.com seemed to view the arts in a similar manner.

Wrote one, "We need to toally [sic] stop fund ALL the 'arts'.

"Yes, 'art' is subjective and to be 'on the safe side,'" the posting continued, "FUND NONE OF IT!"

The issue was used as a platform for other longstanding areas of complaint from the right; wrote another contributor, "The real reason that we can't have the Ten Commandments posted in a School classrooms, any Courthouse or the Halls of Congress is this:

"You cannot post 'Thou Shalt Not Covet,' 'Thou Shalt Not Steal,' 'Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery,' and 'Thou Shall Not Lie' in a buildings full of NEA minions, lawyers, judges, and politicians; it creates a hostile work environment."

Offered another, "Well I'm glad to see that somebody is getting some jobs out of all those tax dollars."

Another compared the arts reported as being funded to The Beatles and Elvis Presley, noting that they had not received government assistance in the creation of their art.

Still another took exception at the paltry sum the city of San Francisco received for much-needed repairs for infrastructure, writing, "Yet the city received only $1.4 million in federal stimulus money for bridges, which will go toward fixing cracks in the decks of more than a half-dozen other bridges."

Another cracked wise, writing, "Funding pornographic horror films? Why do they need money for 'San Francisco's Funniest Home Movies'?"

But at least one individual offered a sharp counter argument to the Fox News item. At the Greta Wire Blog, where the public is invited to offer feedback about Fox News stories, one response took Fox News to task.

"Your story tonight on Frameline receiving 'hundreds of thousands of dollars' in Recovery jobs money from the NEA was very inaccurate," the posting read.

"They produce and show movies about/by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people--that is not 'pornography.'

"What's more they received $50,000," the posting continued, adding, "The $50,000,000 in jobs recovery money distributed through the NEA went to the arts communities across the country."

The posting defended the idea of art and culture as essential to the nation, declaring, "The arts are a vital component of healthy communities and a very important economic engine for our communities and that is a very small portion of the entire Recovery package."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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