Serrano, Christ and me

In recent years I’ve become fiercely proud of my country, and the city I live in, Melbourne. Not the kind of swollen chest, flag-waving, shouting "we’re bloody great!" pride, more the kind of subtle, lump in my throat when I hear a Paul Kelly song pride. This is especially the case since I married an American, and over the years have shown a lot of her relatives around town. Melbourne is great. Australia is great.

I’m proud of our sportsmen and women – the people who can be bothered to exercise more than I do – and all the things they win. I’m proud of the fact that I live in a mature society, a society where (with the appropriate warnings for those easily offended) you can say "fuck" on network television without a fuss. A society where they’ve worked out that prostitution is going to happen whether it’s legal or not, so they’ve legalised brothels. A society that attempts, generally successfully, to look after its people when they need looking after. A society where you can have your leg sewn back on without getting a massive bill for it later. A society fiercely proud of its culture, yet embracing of other people’s.

But then on Monday night came the news that the Andres Serrano exhibition at the National Gallery here in Melbourne had closed because of threatened and actual violence. Well, terrific. The artistic world could be forgiven that we’re a bunch of philistines still living in the 1950s. Obviously a few of us are.

[The picture in question: Andre Serrano's "Piss Christ"]Okay, so the photograph "Piss Christ", of a crucifix immersed in urine (not that you could tell unless you knew the title) was always going to cause a fuss. It’s not like it’s just a picture of flowers in a meadow, is it. It’s not the kind of thing that you buy a postcard of to send to a great-grandmother who fanatically worships the Pope.

So some people felt offended by it, and demonstrated outside the gallery. That is their right, to let other people know how they feel about it. But now three people have physically attacked the picture. Which planet, and what century did they come from?

Just because you’re offended by something doesn’t mean you have the right to stop other, grown, mature adults making the choice to see it. If you know you’re going to be offended by the word "fuck" on network television, then you don’t watch. You don’t go and bomb the television station. If you decide you are deeply offended by my use of the word "fuck" on my web site, then you leave my web site and don’t come back. You don’t hack into it and destroy the files (I keep backups anyway). And you turn on the PICS filter on your browser next time, if it has one.

As for the National Gallery, deciding to shut down the Serrano exhibition has got to be one of the most spineless displays of cowardice I’ve seen in a long time. C’mon, it can’t be that hard to guard a picture! I’m sure there are people in the security industry who can manage to get the picture on public display, but protect it from maniacs with hammers.

So do I like the picture? Well, I haven’t seen it in person, but the fury caused by it has ensured that I’ve seen it plenty of times on television and in the newspapers. If people hadn’t objected, probably almost nobody would have seen it.

I kinda do like it. Maybe it’s saying something about human side of Christ or something like that, I don’t know. I certainly don’t think the artist is saying that Christ should be pissed on. And I’ve got to say, I think the light shining through the bubbles onto the cross is quite beautiful.

Now, where did I put that tape of "The Life Of Brian"?

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