While the United States has few (if any) public censorship laws like India, Canada and many Western European nations, we do have a kind of voluntary ad-hoc system of censorship that goes like this:  the word “nigger” is never seen in print, never heard on television or radio even though it’s not a recognized swear word like fuck or shit for example; the media doesn’t show the blasted apart bodies of mass shooting victims, ever; the words fuck and shit, nigger and Kike are bleeped on television; rarely – almost never - do we see full frontal male nudity on television while the same is not true for the female variety; and God forbid, we should be subjected to the view of an erect penis as can be occasionally seen in European films. 

There are, of course, exceptions to the examples I’ve cited.  On HBO’s magnificent series, “OZ,” male nudity is a staple (I’ve often wondered if the writers were targeting gay men with this show), on cable television, the aforementioned HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, etc., you will hear un-bleeped profanity, and frontal male nudity is occasionally – although rarely – seen in the less Hollywood, more artsy films that play at my favorite movie house, Landmark’s E Street Cinema.  And, of course, you can seek out and find virtually everything on the internet.  The sole exception I’m aware of even on the internet is the autopsy photos of the Newtown first graders massacred by Adam Lanza.

Pre our anything-goes-internet age, we had Jessie Helms and Strom Thurmond, among others, guarding our morality by de-funding the National Foundation for the Arts back in the 1980’s and 1990’s for the crime of using Federal Funds for such allegedly profane and pornographic art displays like our local (and recently defunct) Corcoran Gallery of Art’s show on Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano’s (see left) “Piss Christ,”  the 2010 Hide/Seek Smithsonian exhibit of art works from deceased (from HIV/AIDS related illnesses) gay male and female artists including  David Wojnarowicz's “A Fire In My Belly, to name a few.

Here’s how our “voluntary” censorship system in the arts works:  Some particularly pointed exhibit opens, one of our conservative morality organizations (the American Family Association, the late Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority”) gets wind of the exhibit, right wing Senators and/or Congressmen are notified, then a public campaign to remove the “offending” exhibit is undertaken and more often than not the offensive art is removed.  This insidious pogrom continues every single day of the year.

But below the pubic radar, a whole lot more goes on in the world of conservative anti-art efforts.  Take the nearly insignificant performance art group, Synetic, you won’t have heard of since it’s a local suburban Washington, D.C. organization, who performs Shakespeare plays (they’ve done “Romeo and Juliet,” “Othello,” Macbeth,” “Hamlet” and their latest undertaking, “As You Like It”) without worlds.  That’s right, silently.  Sounds weird doesn’t it – surely one of the greatest artists of the English language – Shakespeare, dialog free!  Thing is, their performances have received rave reviews from local critics like Peter Marks of the Washington Post who wrote: “ Synetic has been down this dialog-free route before and each movement-only treatment shows off the Arlington-based [that’s Arlington, Virginia] troupe to its most dazzling effect.”

Enter conservative Senator James Lankford (R-OK) who listed the National Endowment for the Arts of $61,000 grant (which, amount, by the way includes non-Federal Virginia state and local grants) who has never seen a performance at Synetic.  Yet, based on some Wall Street Journal article, he’s listed Synetic as an example of Federal funding waste.   Amusingly enough, he lists the NEA grant to Synetic just after a $43,000,000 gas station constructed in Afghanistan (yes, that’s $43 million) and just before the alleged $6 billion lost every 10 years through wind energy subsidies. (BTW, doing the math, that nets  $600,000,000 annually.)

 So by Senator Lankford’s calculation, Synetic’s dialogue-only stage performances are a less egregious waste of taxpayer monies than the gas station in Afghanistan, but a more egregious waste than the annual $600 million Federal funds “lost” to wind energy subsidies.  I’m not sure what kind of mind does this kind of math, but, then again, we are talking about a conservative Republican and you know that their mathematical acumen is only slightly above that of the Golden Poison Dart frog, native to Central and South America.

Now Lankford’s (R-OK) inclusion of Synetic in his list of egregious, wasteful, and offensive use of public funds, is not in and of itself censorship.  But, in the system that is the “voluntary censorship” that we follow, it would be no surprise if his highlighting of this small, local, talented artistic theater company will now be subjected to greater scrutiny and, given that the National Endowment for the Arts will most likely be subjected to a public campaign of outrageous, right wing righteousness over this collossal waste of government funds, it would not surprise me in the least if the theater company lost its Federal NEA funding.

And this, folks, is how it works in America.  And as an aside, having been through numerous election cycles in India’s world of crazy politics, Donald Trump would not be able to get away with the insults he lobs at his rival candidates and Democrats nor his blatantly racist utterings about Muslims in India if he were campaigning there.  Trump would be censored for such outbursts since India doesn’t allow such happenings by its political candidates. A couple of years ago, a political candidate from Bengal, Mamamta Banerjee, was ordered to cover up a series of statues the candidate had erected throughout her district since, according to the State Elections Commission, they too closely resembled one of the symbols used by a different party and voters could be confused when indicating which party they were voting for on election day.  It’s really a shame that our politicians get away with their nonsense that they do. 

And finally, REMEMBER:  The good Senator from Oklahoma, James Lankford, has not seen a single performance at Synetic. 


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