Of course, the NEA is hardly the only cultural institution in American society beset by moral chaos. The humanities departments of American colleges and universities are, if anything, in even worse shape, and for the same reason. They, too, have embraced the ethic of transgression dictated by the adversary culture. The sad truth is that much that goes on in the name of humanistic education today is little more than a carnival of perversity. It is orchestrated by college-bred gender-race-class radicals who are bent not on getting an education but on testing the boundaries of acceptable behavioras if that were what the privilege of liberal learning is all about. It is a further testimony of the moral chaos in which our society is mired that such antics are not only tolerated but also positively encouraged by pusillanimous college administrators who long ago reneged on their responsibility as educators and who can be counted upon to meet every moral challenge by squeaking about free speech and diversity.
In case this indictment seems too harsh, consider the treat that the State University of New York at New Paltz recently offered the public. For November 1, the Womens Studies Program scheduled a conference at the college called Revolting Behavior: The Challenges of Womens Sexual Freedom. A pamphlet, mailed at taxpayer expense, describes the program. In the morning, a keynote panel offered students and the public papers like Empowerment as a Strategy for Reclaiming Our Sexuality: The Experience with Latinas and From Judgment to Desire: A Brief Historical Overview of Lesbian Sexuality. Then there were the workshops, on some twenty subjects, including Sex Toys for Women, The Effect of Religion on Womens Sexual Experience, How to Get What You Want in Bed, Queer Sexuality: A Spectrum of Womens Experience, Safe, Sane & Consensual S/M: An Alternate Way of Loving, and Writing Erotica into Our Journals. For the evening, the womens studies department promised us Whiplash: Tale of a Tomboy, an hour-long entertainment by Shelly Mars, a performance artist who, a university press release informed us, was working as a stripper in a bisexual bathhouse [when she] began to experiment with character development as a way to alleviate the sometimes demeaning aspects of her job.
That was on November 1. For the weekend of November 7 and 8, SUNY New Paltz scheduled Arts Now 1997, a national conference called Subject to Desire: Refiguring the Body. Sponsored in part by the College at New Paltz Foundation and the Office of the Dean of the School of Fine & Performing Arts, this event is yet another exercise in pornography dressed up in polysyllabic gobbledygook, featuring, e.g., an installation called Vulvas School by Carolee Schneemann, best known for an act in which she slowly unravels a scroll from her vagina while reading it aloud to the audience. In an earlier age, such behavior, if it occurred at all, would have been confined to the precincts of a freak show. Now it is endorsed by a college dean as part of an ambitious preoccupation that encourages participants to explore new ideas. As if these rebarbative radical clichés had anything to do with new ideas! Are such corrupting parodies of education really what parents and other taxpayers in New York State wish to support? We doubt it.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 16 Number 3, on page 3
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