The fleas are wagging the dog

Personally, I really admire Blake Gopnik at the Washington Post for trying to be reasonable in a culture that is mostly not reasonable — see Blake Gopnik – Reaction to National Portrait Gallery’s ants-and-crucifix controversy — but it seems entirely pointless. I don’t mean it’s pointless to try to be civil. I mean it’s pointless to try to be reasonable with inherently and determinedly unreasonable people.

Not long ago, I was talking with a highly trained communications professional — these are the sorts of people I hang around with — who was showing the kinds of people there is a point in trying to communicate with. Said professional drew a graph. In one corner, were those totally against. In the opposite corner, those totally for. You never try to communicate with either of those populations because it’s not cost-effective but also a complete waste of time. Their minds are made up. It’s the people in the middle that you try to communicate with, because their minds are not already made up and they might be swayed by intelligent argument. They are not, however, people who are highly vocal.

Imagine a reasonably healthy dog. Pretty happy, content to do what he/she does best. Hunt, sleep, bark, eat, wag tail, bark, sleep, roll in really smelly stuff, sleep, eat, live life to the fullest in that canine way.

So the dog has fleas. Not a bad case. Not a misery-inducing, scratch-the-fur-right-off-its-back case. But enough to remind the dog that it’s a dog. The fleas bite. The dog itches and scratches. Irritating beyond belief, but neither life-threatening nor really very interesting. Seems to me that the folks who are so agitated over David Wojnarowicz’s work — which includes ants crawling on an idol — excuse me, crucifix — are the fleas on the body politic. Sad and ignorant and absolutely determined to remain that way.

Dude, you are not going to change their minds. Their arguments are not reasoned. They have nothing to do with anything but hurt feelings. Wojnarowicz — a dead man — has hurt their feelings.

But controversy is what sells newspapers. I learned about Wojnarowicz years ago in New York when he was still alive. Never liked his work. It didn’t hurt my feelings, but I just didn’t get into it. Didn’t mean I wanted it removed from gallery walls. Just meant I didn’t go see it.

I completely agree with Gopnik that “art is pretty much as important as anything else a society produces or does,” but I suspect that the fleas do not. They do not do much good for anyone, except (stupidly, it seems to me) Wojnarowicz and his work. You cannot get better publicity for your work than to have it set upon by fleas.

So I have a message for the fleas: My novel, The Final Appearance of America’s Favorite Girl Next Door, is probably blasphemous. There has to be something in there — sex, the Lord’s name in vain, something — that will piss you off. Do me a favor, please. Jump all over it. Condemn it. Remember, I won an NEA literature grant and spent every cent of it writing sex scenes. Please pillory my work. I could use the money.

Stark Take — literature you can live without because you do

The fleas are wagging the dog

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