Letters to the Editor

Don't make me pay for offensive art show! Plus: Disrespecting romance writers; are stay-at-home moms wasting their lives?

Published October 6, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Giuliani's "Sensation"


I am delighted that the creme of the artistic community has rushed to the
defense of the exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. With all those rich
people in its corner there should be no problem making up the difference when
its funds get slashed by Congress next year for promoting hate art. To say
that smearing an image with feces is to honor it is disingenuous in the
extreme. Is that the interpretation Saatchi anticipated? Or the museum

I too am cheering them on to exhibit absolutely anything they feel
like. Just not with my money. There are so many groups to denigrate that it
is hard for an artist to narrow it down. They'll probably stick with
Catholics though. They're such an easy target. And when the Ku Klux Klan and
the neo-Nazis come up with their art exhibits, I know where they will find a
sympathetic ear and a champion for their First Amendment rights. It's good to
know that someone is giving a platform and visibility to young artists -- as
long as I don't have to pay for it.

-- Sally Connors

New York

Out of curiosity and prejudice I went to see the "Sensations" show at the
Brooklyn Museum of Art. I expected only the most banal, crassly transgressive
crap. I was wrong (well, mostly). Take Chris Ofili's famous and widely
lamented depiction of the Madonna. The color was stunning. The manure was not
only inoffensive, it was a compliment. No, really: The guy likes manure. He
thinks it's sweet (although I'm still wondering just what that cartoon sperm
is doing in the Virgin's mouth). To be sure, a great
deal of the exhibit was offensively lame gimcrackery with shock value and
nothing else, but a lot of it was interesting too. Some of it I would even
call moving. I hate advising people to spend money to support what is largely
an advertising campaign to help line the pockets of a Saatchi -- but, before you
slam it, see it.

-- Michael Fonda

Cintra Wilson's excoriating assessment of Rudy Giuliani's belief
that excrement does not amount to art amounts to little more than a
well-worded playground taunt. Had she taken a moment to attempt some
insight into the issue, she would have realized that in liberal New York,
approaching an election year, Giuliani was purposely taking an unpopular and
near career-suicidal stance on this issue. As with all of his "tyrannical"
policies that have made New York a cleaner, sporadically gentler place, he
appears to be acting on a gut-level revulsion to filth, literal and figurative.

When it comes to a discourse on what can be considered "art," I usually take
a pretty open-minded stance. Very rarely is the piece in question something
abjectly offensive, hurtful or damaging. But when it comes down to
exhibiting such disrespect as to portray the Virgin Mary in the way that
Chris Ofili has, I find myself shocked into anger. Belief in the Virgin
Mary is a sacred tenet of the Roman Catholic faith, and if one is to defend
the First Amendment with such ardor, one should remember that this amendment
also provides for being able to exercise one's religion without being shit on,
so to speak.

If it were any icon of any other faith that is considered hip, or more sympathetic
to the liberal cause, Wilson and her ilk would have been hard-pressed to
decide which side of the issue to come down on. If an unflattering image of the Dalai Lama were to
be presented in exchange for taxpayers' money, would she be so passionate
in her contempt of Giuliani's decision?

-- Kathleen McCabe


Mayor Guiliani has absolutely gone too far by threatening the lease of the Brooklyn Museum of
Art over what is, at best, a reworking of a bad art school idea.
The only things that this brouhaha will accomplish are increased attendance
at the show, and more money for Saatchi when he goes to sell the piece.
The mayor is taking a part and equating it with the whole: Ofili's Virgin
Mary piece is part of a curated show, and cannot be singled out to cause the downfall of a 100-year-old institution with a history of serving the community through exhibition and

New York has always embraced scandal and celebrated difference. If it
didn't, it couldn't survive. Giuliani has become a caricature of
himself with this one, and he is turning New York into an Epcot version of
itself with his actions.

Although Ofili's Virgin is not a piece I would choose to defend (because of
its execution, not its content), it is the one that I need to defend.

-- Michael McTigue


Damn, that evil Giuliani -- he not only rides with all the cops, he convinces
the parole board or a judge to put "a friend" of Wilson's in jail for three months -- on a
totally fake parole violation (the friend is a "reformed" car thief -- he could never have broken the law!). Of course, Wilson knows that drinking beer and smoking pot in the streets is against the law, but I guess her friends shouldn't play by the same rules we all do -- even if the cops no
longer wink at public drug users. Maybe the mayor's huge reduction in crime has left the cops free
to arrest criminals of all colors and stripes. Maybe Cintra should find
another town to live in if she fears that New York City is the equivalent of
1939 Berlin.

-- Jeffrey Abelson

New York

I would not even blink an eye if Rudy Giuliani planted and set off dynamite
at the museum's doorsteps. Surely, the place can't be that far from
death when everything from Serrano to Ofili is labeled as "art," whatever
that wasted term now means. The art world, represented by collectors,
dealers and museums, sounds more and more like a gaggle of used-car
salesmen. They are the real 20th century hucksters, selling the public
shit (quite literally now) with their oozing, sycophantic "artspeak."
Cintra Wilson is no different from Rudy Giuliani -- both are stirred and
enraged by nothing but mere mediocrity. Great and canonical art lived and
breathed way before our first museum was built, and will grow after time
buries our last museum in dust. While da Vinci, Magritte and Rodin live on
forever, Ofili and his "art" will last not much longer than it takes my shit
to disappear into the sewer system.

-- Anthony L. Porter

I am extremely disappointed and dismayed at this big hoopla over
the Brooklyn Museum exhibition. Not only do I find it inexcusable but I
am shocked that other people aren't calling it like it is. This reaction on the part of the mayor, clergy (like I pay attention to anything John Cardinal O'Connor says) and other city and
state officials boils down to plain and simple racism -- the primary
offense being the depiction of an obviously rural, possibly third-world
African Virgin Mary. The jewel-encrusted piece of
elephant dung is only of secondary importance; I mean,
everyone knows black people are disgusting, vile, filthy animals, so why
should we be surprised they'd make art out of shit?

It's one of those times when I'm embarrassed by New York's old-fashioned, Catholic,
traditionalist, patronizing, right-wing, close-minded, cold-hearted
superiority. It's as if New York's supposed embrace of multi-ethnic
peoples and cultures is merely the face put forth, while secretly the
Catholic diocese smolders and watches from a smoky crystal ball hidden a
hundred feet below City Hall.

-- Emily Marcus

Forbidden Romance?


Though your article included many wonderful, detailed points about
e-publishing, I was disappointed to find the same old stereotypes,
preconceived notions and hasty conclusions about the romance-writing field.
Comments such as "bodice-bursting Harlequins gracing the checkout counter"
and "heaving bosoms, tender caresses and manly members" are certainly not
original. Perhaps they were even tongue-in-cheek. But I expected a Salon
reporter to go beyond the traditional genre slam, to take a fresh approach.

Janelle Brown reported that romances entice "a group of readers consisting primarily of
gushingly devoted teenage girls and middle-aged women." Just a little fact:
The biggest consumers of romances are college-educated women who earn more
than $50,000 a year. Brown also called me and my peers
"frustrated love-struck authors." Writing is my full-time job, and from 6
in the morning until 4 in the afternoon, I'm not sitting at my desk
waiting for Cupid to strike. When I sign my contracts --- with advances from
my e-publisher, no less -- I am anything but frustrated.

-- Michelle Lee

Author of "Jonah's Way" (Orpheus Romance)

Thousands of writers struggle to see their words in print each
day, yet the big "conventional" publishers see only the bottom line and not
the advancement of the literary art form. "If you are not already a big
name then you can forget it!" is the message they send. E-book publishers
represent the new era of the "small press." No wonder the "big guys" in
the publishing industry are getting nervous.

-- Cindy Appel

While there are still differences of opinion on what makes a
"professional" writer, it mischaracterizes the issue to state that
professional writers organizations seem to want e-publishers to act more
like print publishers.

E-publishing is still a new industry, still shaking out business
models. It takes time for these organizations to change their criteria
for accepting new authors -- from, for example, relying solely on advances
or per-word rates to sharing 35 percent of advertising revenue from a
Web site. Many of these organizations are still conflicted as to the
status of writers of movies, TV, radio plays, comic books and CD-ROMs.

That said, the industry is taking notice. This year, SFWA, in
cooperation with BiblioBytes, became the first professional writers
organization to provide the complete text of all novels and short works
nominated for the Nebula Awards, the highest literary award honoring the field
of science-fiction fantasy, to SFWA members on the Internet. This was
the first time that the power of the Internet was harnessed to assist
the voters for a major literary award.

In years past, it has been difficult for many members who wished to vote
on the awards to track down all the published works. In particular, it
was often difficult to find the back issue of a magazine containing
a short story, and in some cases nominated works were published in
relatively obscure journals. It seemed highly appropriate that an organization devoted to the
literature of the future was the first to use the Internet to further a
major literary award, and we were delighted to cooperate on an endeavor,
which showed that e-publishing has important implications for readers,
writers and publishers alike.

-- Glenn Hauman
President, BiblioBytes

Navigating Nairobi


Alicia Rebensdorf demonstrates that, although she speaks a few words of Swahili, she doesn't know how to spell it. For example, a white person is a "mzungu" (not "mazungu," as she states in her article) and "I'm sorry" is "pole," (not "poli"). Rebensdorf also mistakenly reports that the word "matatu" translates to mean "three people" in English, which it doesn't: The word derives from when it used to cost three shillings to travel using this form of transportation.

Perhaps your editors and Rebensdorf might be interested in an online Swahili dictionary where they can check the correctness of their Swahili and their spelling.

-- Bill Wuhrman

Home is where the revolution is

Cecelie Berry's article accurately captures the dilemma many full-time
mothers cope with regularly. It is unfortunate that we live in a country
where the "family values" mantra is espoused, yet many mothers who
undertake the difficult job to parent full-time feel ashamed about their
choice. Until parenting is valued and respected, rather than denigrated and
considered an endeavor only a stupid person would undertake, full-time
mothers will continue to feel the need to defend their decision to parent
their own children.

-- Monica Coard-Emrich

Lafayette, Calif.

Since becoming a mother in my mid-30s, I have battled with
my own expectation that I would do Great Things with my life. Funny, I never
gave it much thought before having a child, but since I was granted the
opportunity to do what my mother never did -- raise a child and
maintain a career -- there is a part of me that feels that having
anything less than a brilliant professional life is a failure.

As a working mother out of choice, not economic necessity, I
sometimes feel guilty that my son spends much of his day in the care of
someone else so that I can have a mediocre career. From my
perspective, professional women like Berry and others (even without the Ivy League credentials) are tremendously courageous to follow their conscience and stay at home with their children. The scrutiny they face for their choice is more difficult to withstand because not
only does it come from society, it comes from within.

Is this what the feminist revolution left for women who are
mothers? Guilt, doubt, and self recrimination seem to be what women
face on both sides of the stay-at-home decision. Until women can make
choices without wondering whether or not it will gain them entry into
the "worthy life" club, we will never have gained equality.

-- Laila Rashid

Cecelie Berry is right that something about caring for children withers the
soul. Putting other (ungrateful and demanding) people first all the time does
make it very hard to remember who you are. But Berry is closer than she
thinks to having her life back. The kids grow up very quickly, and in a few
years, she'll be back to her career. In the end, she'll have had it all -- that's the real revolution.

-- Cecelia Holland

Fortuna, Calif.

I'm sick of the "camps" attitude to motherhood.
The author complains about the perception of stay-at-home moms as having
wasted their education and even their very selves. I have heard this
perception talked about so often -- but almost always by stay-at-home
mothers. I don't remember ever hearing a working mother say it.

Similarly, working mothers complain that those who stay at home with their
children cast them, the workers, as uncaring, hardbitten women who
selfishly put career and money before all else. I don't think I've ever
actually heard a stay-at-home mother say those words, though.

What strikes me, again and again, is that both groups are continually
second-guessing themselves, and in order to make themselves feel better
they get into groups and talk with their peers about how the other side
sees them.

How positive is that?
Why can't we all just get on with it instead of obsessing about choice and
careers and children and self-sacrifice and the whole bit. Speaking as a
currently working mother, who stayed at home for two years and will
probably do so again if it works out that way -- it would be such a relief.

-- Mary Kate Halpin

Dublin, Ireland

5 interview for independent counsel

Why is it necessary to replace Kenneth Starr? Why not tell him to file his
final report and then end it all? The Independent Counsel Statute has been
voted out as of last June 30. Or haven't the Republicans gotten the message
yet? The American people are tired of all this nonsense and tired of our
money being wasted by hypocritical, petty politicians.

-- C.B. Abrams

Louisville, Ky.

By Letters to the Editor

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Rudy Giuliani