Todd Haynes’ Poison Controversy Explaining: An Indie Classic Goes To Culture Wars

If pastor Donald Wildmon of the far-right American Family Association was to be believed in 1991, the US government, through the National Foundation for the Arts, sponsored gay porn. The movie in question is Todd Haynes’ “Poison,” a trilogy of short stories based on the work of gay writer Jean Genet, and you probably won’t be surprised to find out, it’s far from a poignant movie. like “A Man for all seasons.” However, the truth is not important. Haynes’ it’s a pseudo-gay filmmaker who took taxpayers money to make a film that examines the “horror horror” of a society that, for the most part, cannot accept the weird (i.e. not straight). outspoken) of their own angry religious bigotry like Wildmon. They can sense the cultural wave going against them, so they rally their hate base to protest some subsidies from the government.

“Poison” is just the latest outbreak in the conservative battle against the NEA. Throughout the 1980s, Republican politicians such as Jesse Helms, Dick Armey and Newt Gingrich claimed they were targeting wasteful spending as well as supposedly sketchy art, but their targets were mostly as always the minority. Their crusade began in 1989 when they learned of Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ,” a photograph of the crucifix submerged in the artist’s urine. Before that, most Americans were probably unaware of the existence of the NEA. Now, a section of the public has voiced their desire to abolish it for providing financial support to a blasphemer.

Then there was Robert Mapplethorpe.

The NEA Wars


When Washington DC’s Corcoran Museum of Art was revealed to be getting the NEA’s backing for an exhibition of Mapplethorpe’s photographs, the rights were completely upset. The artist, who had previously died of AIDS in ’89, took erotic pictures of sadistic acts. There were also two photographs of children where their genitals were exposed, but the main objection to the rights involved any public funding of gay art.

As the Corcoran Museum struggled with political pressure, the Cincinnati Center for Contemporary Art organized the exhibition. Ohio’s so-called Queen City sits in a red corner of the state, and its most fervent residents flocked to protest the museum’s presentation. This led to a potentially dangerous obscenity trial – which was never supposed to go to trial at first – which was fortunate. supported by the museum.

Despite these famous scandals, the NEA’s budget, though barely a part of the massive government spending plan, continues to grow. Religious rights needed another powerhouse, and they found it when Haynes’ “Poison” premiered at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival (where it won the Grand Jury Prize).

Homophobia Rears Its Ugly Head


Haynes is no stranger to controversy. His brilliant “Superstar: The Story of the Carpenter Karen” tells the tragic story of a musician through a Barbie doll, which in theory sounds like a goof, but it’s completely true in reality. failure in execution. Alas, the unlicensed use of Carpenters songs and the unflattering depiction of Karen’s brother Richard prompted the musician to file a successful piracy lawsuit against Haynes, turning it into a one of the most sought after hit movies today.

“Poison” is Haynes’ first feature-length feature film, and while it’s officially daring, the plot hardly wows viewers. But it’s a gay movie based on a gay writer’s work that focuses to some extent on gay people, which makes it a sinful work in the eyes of a curmudgeon. like Wildmon. When he learned that “Poison” had been co-sponsored by the NEA, he claimed Haynes’ film contained “clearly erotic scenes of homosexuals having anal sex.” This was a lie, but it was rare at the time to come across a legitimate piece of reportage willing to refute Wildmon’s claims. The media’s gratuitous depravity feels particularly grave given the terrible cost the AIDS pandemic has taken on the gay community. It’s an important film in the burgeoning New Queue Cinema movement, and it’s being surrounded by a well-funded group of gay people.

NEA builds a warm defense system


It fell into the hands of newly appointed NEA president John E. Frohnmayer to steer the organization out of turbulent waters, and he clumsily played at the front. He supported Haynes’ artistic vision by dismissing accusations of sloppiness (emphasizing that “Poison” was “the work of a serious artist addressing a serious problem in his society”. us”), but he need not succumb to the Republican Party’s bad faith criticism by establishing a codicil in the NEA application that forces the artist to promise that the finished work will not” obscene” – thus preventing creators from violating their agreement. Fortunately, no one ever committed this unresolvable condition.

Despite Helms condemning the movie in the United States Senate, “Poison” received a limited release from Zeitgeist Films in the spring of 1991. You could argue that this was yet another setback for religious rights in the culture wars, but the fact that their baseless allegations were ever taken seriously is a victory for the movement’s unwavering resilience.

The culture war is started


The NEA’s budget was slashed when Gingrich’s GOP took control of Congress during the Clinton era, but funding has increased over the past two decades. Adjusted for inflation, the endowment isn’t as substantial now as it once was, but with countless media amplified attacks on its efforts, it’s a miracle it’s still around. in.

As for Haynes, he followed up “Poison” with crippling environmental horror in “Safe,” arguably the best film of the 1990s. The formal audacity of his early work was mature proficiently; movies like “Far from Heaven”, “I’m Not There” and “Carol” are cutting-edge genre/cultural commentary and become even more engaging the more you deconstruct them. It’s about how we live, how we interpret art, and why that art exists. As an outspoken person, this particular language was completely foreign to me until I joined the work of Gus Van Sant, Tony Kushner and Haynes. I am indebted to these artists and those who stood up to hateful bullies like Wildmon, Helms and Gingrich. Culture existed for a moment there, and some incredibly brave people helped the art of fighting get out of its way.

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