How to confront a Hate Crime: Religious Bigotry in a Bikini

Leo Higgins asks the question, why is picturing the Virgin Mary in a bikini not considered religious bigotry at its worse. What can we do about it?

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How to confront a Hate Crime: Religious Bigotry in a Bikini

By Leo Higgins
Columnist, WriteWinger.Com

The Virgin Mary is depicted with hands arrogantly poised on her hips, wearing a flowered bikini in Alma Lopez's collage displayed prominently in Santa Fe, New Mexico's Museum of International Folk Art.

Why is this not evidence of a hate crime?!

Worse still, the folks at CompuServe seemed to be treating this crime rather lightheartedly.

Worst of all, excepting the short blurb on CompuServe, there seems to be no mention of this hate crime in the mainstream media!

It is the latest in a long string of events providing evidence of serious cultural disconnect from reasonable standards of behavior, respect and tolerance of others' beliefs.

But, hey, controversy sells. Dollars motivate.

Artists, museums, even CompuServe all know this, and take advantage of it. It's even better when they all conspire to coyly titillate our sensibilities with the piously neutral question: "Is it art?"

Well who knows these days?

It wasn't so long ago that an answer would have been tendered in less ambiguous terms! The blame for how we got to this point can be doled out to many groups.

The arts crowd comes to mind first. We hear constantly from most of artists themselves the whole value of art is to shock, to create critical introspection for one's beliefs, and so forth. That would seem to be a historically new concept!

Sure, there have always been individual artists who have sought to shock and challenge in their work. But never, until now, have the artistically minded, as a collective body, established the purpose of art in such terms.

Art has, until recently, existed to edify, to elevate the human experience, to point us to Higher Things.

How utterly utilitarian of disaffected, socially challenged members of the Arts Community - seemingly the majority of those gaining notoriety, these days - to turn the reasons for art's existence completely upside down in under a century.

The hypocrisies loom large, though.

While the point to art is, apparently, to shock, it must shock...uh... surreptitiously, lest the troglodytes out there become shocked into clamoring for withdrawal of federal arts funding.

The Santa Fe museum's own website innocuously advertises this exhibit as "computer-inspired work by contemporary Hispana/Chicana/Latina artists, all of who (sic) intentionally combine elements traditionally defined as 'folk' with current computer technology to create a new aesthetic."

Well! Let's pack up the kids, Mabel, and have a look-see at the new aesthetic!

The media share much of the blame, too.

The same folks who typically carry water for politically correct notions of tolerance seem to lose their correct notions of tolerance seem to lose their objectivity when it comes to painfully obvious affronts to the sensibilities of Christians -- especially those of a conservative bent.

From Andres Serrano's notorious urine bottle with a Crucifix in it, to artist Chris Olifi's recent depiction of the Virgin Mary using elephant dung, the mainstream media can be relied upon to slant the story in a highly predictable way.

The artists' contorted explanations of the purity of their motives are taken at face value.

The objections of religious leaders, Christians, and even others simply interested in fairness, are trumpeted as prima facie evidence of their intolerance, bigotry, close mindedness and probable sociopathic nature.

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, for example, is simply dismissed by the press as an outfit of cranks when it declares its well-founded objections, in these artistic debacles, to what any Christian would clearly consider blasphemy.

George Orwell's concept of Newspeak, in which basic meanings of words are often reversed from their traditional usage, has a natural application in today's media!

But there's even more blame to go around.

Many churches have become anaesthetized to the ill will of the increasingly secular culture around them.

In an attempt to appear modern and part of the cultural war against -isms, they oftentimes make themselves strange bedfellows to the very people who would sooner cut their collective throats than look at them.

Few in the modern art community or the press have even the slightest interest in the personal pursuit of religious truth. Poll after poll, taken of these groups, confirms this.

Gearing up to Confront!

Church leaders would do well to consider this fact, and become less blatant in their pandering to the press and Hollywood, in hopes of smatterings of favorable coverage.

Yet such coverage too infrequent and lukewarm to be of lasting benefit.

Finally, the blame comes down to all of us.

As does the solution! Until we hold the museums and media accountable, and protest with our voices, pens, feet and remote controls, we will see no changes in the status quo.

We are the key.

Furthermore, Christians are still a majority in this country. And even Christians, theoretically, still have rights. They should insist on them.

They should shout loud and long when the double standards of media and entertainment elites establish them as the last acceptable targets of bigotries and insensitivities universally condemned when applied to any other group.

Leo Higgins is both a commentator and freelance columnist. Article copyrighted © 04/2001 by Leo Higgins, used with permission.