"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The chocolate Jesus: a profile in cowardice

For some reason, Canadian-Italian artist Cosimo Cavallaro has decided to generate publicity with blasphemy according to formula: a chocolate sculpture of a naked Jesus. As in chocolate Easter eggs. Get it?

This sort of thing has been done more than once before, albeit less wittily. Remember Piss Christ? Creative people with flagging careers often set out to shock sensibilities in the belief that all publicity is good publicity. Sometimes that is true; if you define 'good' in a certain way, it's trivially true. But Cavallaro has miscalculated. In the art world, shock value is shopworn, like a five-dollar bill that, long in circulation, has grown almost too ragged to be usable; the brave artist defying convention is now a convention that the art world doesn't yet know how to mock. That is one reason why, in this case, the artist can't even define good publicity into existence.

As you can read, Bill Donohue has issued the usual statements of outrage. To that, the gallery's "creative director" Matt Semier has attached the predictable label: "a Catholic fatwa." Only the most deluded leftie could take that label at face value. Sure, there have been angry statements and calls for boycotts; what would be shocking would be the absence of such calls. But if Cavallaro and his facilitators really want to know what a fatwa is, they should display a naked, chocolate Muhammad at the gallery. Of course, the gallery and the artist would have to last long enough for them to learn. They probably would not. And they know it. Which is why they don't do a naked, chocolate Muhammad. At least not for public display.

For what they have done, Cavallaro and friends know that they will suffer no consequences worse than the perfectly legal, and moral, ones that Donohue has already called for. They imagine what Donohue has called for to be the sort of bad publicity that is good publicity. But what their exercise in cynicism really shows is that they are cowards. They don't recognize that as bad publicity. Which is the best possible reason I can think of to treat them as beneath contempt.
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