Once in a while I see Norman Lear. Not surprising. In Los Angeles' progressive community it's bound to happen. Eerie how he never seems to age.
I first met Mr. Lear in 1982. I was happily ensconced in the Creative Department at Avco Embassy Pictures, which Mr. Lear went on to buy. As (bad) luck would have it, I was immediately demoted to the data print-out department in the Company's hope that I would quit. I did. So much for hostile takeovers!!
Yet while my film career took a sudden dive south, Mr. Lear was, and still is, my hero. Hostile takeovers aside, I love his brilliance, guts and politics.
Like millions of Americans, I first learned of Norman Lear in 1971 when he launched his sitcom "All In The Family," and introduced America to stereotypical blue-collar bigot, Archie Bunker. Flawlessly portrayed by actor Carroll O'Connor, Archie Bunker soon set the American standard for self-righteous pomposity. Yet for all his assaults on others' ethnicities, religions and political views, Archie Bunker was an inherently decent man.
"All In The Family," and its successor "Archie's Bunker's Place," went off the air in 1983. Over the past twenty odd years I haven't given that character a thought. At least not until a couple years ago, when suddenly Archie's voice BLARED through my TV. From a nearby room I heard Archie Bunker spewing his typical stuff about Catholicism just like he used to do.
But wait a minute! How could this be?! Carroll O'Connor had passed away. There was no Archie Bunker!
I ran to the TV and on my screen was the apoplectic clone of Archie Bunker, berating a significantly calmer man. Written below the crimson-faced clone were the words, "William Donohue, President of the Catholic League."
Holy Heavenly Satellite Airwaves!!! Archie Bunker has come back to life!!
Only this time, the superficial meanness, the artificial hostility, and feigned arrogance had morphed from mock to REAL. William Donohue, the defender of Catholicism, is the Archie Bunker of the new millennium. And fittingly so. With humanity at its most challenged, and compassion falling short, one should expect the new Archie Bunker to sacrifice his warm heart for a colder more venomous version.
How sad to think that my beloved eighty-year-old aunt in Staten Island, so devoted to her Church, is being so horribly represented. She who practices the PRINCIPLES of her religion every day through her charity, tolerance, kindness and grace, must endure this raging foul-tempered, ill-mannered, bigoted senior-child speaking on her behalf. It's immoral.
Over these past several days, millions have witnessed Mr. Donohue's attack on artist Cosimo Cavallaro's life-size sculpture of Chocolate Jesus. Millions have witnessed Donohue's juvenile joy at preventing the sculpture from being shown.
Tragically, what millions have not witnessed is the truth about the exhibit itself.
Throughout his misrepresentation of the artist, the sculpture, and the Roger Smith Gallery where Chocolate Jesus was to be shown, William Donohue has consistently maintained that the artist and Gallery's principle plan was to expose Jesus' genitalia to children, then eat the sculpture, genitalia and all.
This purposeful mischaracterization of the artist's intent permitted Donohue to gather enough momentum to thwart the exhibit altogether, and essentially kill a beautifully crafted work of art.
Two nights ago I had an in-depth conversation with Matt Semler, Artistic Director of the Roger Smith Gallery. According to Mr. Semler, the Roger Smith Gallery is a street viewing gallery. All exhibits at the Roger Smith are viewed by pedestrians as they walk past the Gallery's floor to ceiling windows at its Lexington Avenue and 47th Street location. No exhibits at the Roger Smith permit walk-in viewing. All viewing is done from outside, from the street, through the windows.
Adhering to the exhibit's parameters, no viewers would have entered the room with Chocolate Jesus. No viewers would have touched, smelled, tasted or eaten Chocolate Jesus. Sad that Salon.com's Joan Walsh hadn't prepared better for her debate with Donahue on Scarborough Country last Thursday. Although Joan did an admirable job, having the full facts would have allowed her to challenge Donohue more proficiently in the following exchange:
DONOHUE: ... tell the truth about this! It was on street level. It was made of chocolate, with his genitals exposed, asking people to come in and eat him during Holy Week. Now, if you can't figure that out, why that might be offensive, then you are really in the minority!
WALSH: I can figure it out, but I just wouldn't go by it if it was offensive. You know, I just don't think that it's the kind of big deal. I didn't see it as sacrilegious myself. You may have. You don't go. I could go, if I want to. But now it's not going to be there. You're the one who's trying to drive people out of the public square...
As Matt Semler further explained, to facilitate the Chocolate Jesus exhibit, the Gallery was fully blackening all its windows but one. The window that wasn't fully blackened was to have a small clear rectangle, chest level to passersby, through which to view the statue. Viewers would walk to that rectangular porthole, peer through it, and view the glistening statue cast against a scene of delicate lighting.
Obviously, with the viewing porthole positioned at chest height, small children would not have access to the sculpture unless lifted up to see it.
Donohue's preoccupation with exhibiting Jesus' genitalia demonstrates what little knowledge he has of classic Christian art. In fact, Donahue's penile paranoia tilts a bit toward the bizarre. Why isn't he aware that Michelangelo's The Crucifix, depicting Christ on the Cross with full genitalia, is openly displayed at the Church of Santa Maria del Spirito in Florence, Italy?
There is no denying William Donohue's repulsion toward Chocolate Jesus. But none of the arguments he presents have the validity to support his disgust. Viewers weren't to eat the sculpture. Children weren't likely to see the sculpture.
In an effort to more clearly understand Mr. Donohue's hostility, I'd like to offer what I believe is the more likely basis for his dislike of Chocolate Jesus. Quite simply, it's a Chocolate Jesus and not a Vanilla Jesus. It's a Dark Chocolate Jesus and not a White Chocolate Jesus. It's not Mr. Donohue's Jesus. Mr. Donohue's Jesus is White.
White Jesus suits Mr. Donohue's "taste."
Norman Lear's fictitious bigot would have joked for years about a Dark Chocolate Jesus. Donohue's real-life bigot couldn't rest till he ended its life. For the sake of my wonderful aunt and the truly devoted, bigot Bill has got to go!!