Alex Blaze

The Folsom Street Fair poster, sexophobia, and cultural appropriation

Filed By Alex Blaze | September 27, 2007 8:25 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Christian beliefs, Concerned Women for America, cultural appropriation, Folsom Street Fair, Jesus, Leonardo da Vinci, Miller Brewing, Sistine Chapel, the Last Supper

This Folsom Street Fair ad has been making its rounds, and the Religious Right, of course, is all up in arms about this one. If you haven't seen it, here it is:


It's a re-enactment of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper with leather men and Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The Catholic League has called for Miller Brewing to pull their sponsorship of the event (they asked for their logo to be removed from the poster but haven't pulled funding) and the Concerned Women for America have called it a "disturbing homosexual twist on Da Vinci's 'The Last Supper.'"

I won't get into the undertones of idolatry in being offended not by a depiction of God, but instead by a depiction of a Renaissance painting by a gay man, mainly because I don't know enough about that sort of thing, but this affair is rather telling when it comes to homophobia, Christian sexophobia, and cultural appropriation.

It's no surprise that the groups that are offended by this poster are homophobic in general and would consider any queer interpretation of anything related to Christianity offensive. They seem to only be offended by this depiction of da Vinci's work, even though there are many others out there, which Culturally Popped aggregated here. Evidently presenting the Christ and his disciples as gay and sexual is significantly worse than presenting them as muppets, fast food advertising spokesthings, stoners, drunks, mobsters, cartoon characters, video game characters, manga characters, and Lego characters (Dan Savage has more, including knitters, dogs, cats, Phishheads, and supermodels; they're actually quite neat to look at).

Along with the religious right a couple of homocons have joined. Chris Crain complains that the Jesus is bare chested, I'm guessing because he believes that God didn't take the form of a man or something, and even posts a drunken Last Supper without complaint. Andrew Sullivan calls it "easy, cheap blasphemy" and taunts the makers to "do a similar parody on a sacred Muslim scene", if they have the "balls" (even though I doubt many Americans would recognize much Muslim art from the late 15th century, and the Muslims don't allow for portraits of Muhammad because that could result in idolatry).

But the dichotomy that gets set up is offensive - that "Christian" cannot be mixed with "gay" or "sexual" or "kinky". it's set up as a battle between two groups, even though I would venture to say that there were probably a few Christians on board in the making of that poster and a few more who are working on the fair in general. But when a Christian anti-sex narrative has been established, and sex is seen as anti-Christian, images like the poster are frowned upon as anti-Christian, whether they are or not. The power of this lens is easily seen on Michelle Malkin's blog, where she runs the caption "Miller: The beer of open borders and leather-bound Christian-bashers" under a picture of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, even though the Sisters have stated time and time again that they're not mocking nuns. But hey, whatever truth works for Michelle, I guess.

It's offensive to me that the very idea that Jesus was sexual in any way is offensive to these people. The Bible doesn't say that Jesus was celibate; it just never mentions any sexual relationships. Those are two completely different things. I mean, he was God in man, wasn't he?

But surrounding all of this, and unspoken by the Religious Right, is the fact that they are offended by a queering of a work of art painted by a man who can be described with the word "queer". I was thinking about a similar situation when I was in Rome last year, standing in the Vatican next to the Sistine Chapel, and I was thinking that the Catholic Church, one of the more institutionally homophobic groups in the world, allowed Michelangelo, a gay man, to paint naked men on the ceiling of a chapel in the Vatican. Really, imagine Pat Robertson today demonstrating on The 700 Club how to paint a male nude. On second thought, you probably don't want to.

While I doubt the artist who organized the photo was thinking about this, here we have several homophobic groups arguing against a gay interpretation of a painting by a gay man. According to their logic, the work of Leonardo does not belong to everyone, it belongs to them. Because of his sexuality, if that painting belongs to anyone nowadays when it comes to lines of sexual identity, it's us. In a way, the artist was taking back what's been ours for centuries, so of course homophobic groups are going to complain.

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As you know I'm a pretty keen observer of the religious right, and I don't really see many of them "up in arms" about this. William Donohue is the only one talking about it, and it's not as if he's particularly influential these days (yet the news media loves to have him on the air). It seems like a media-manufactured controversy intended to perpetuate the stupid red state vs blue state dichotomy crap and waste our energies on meaningless culture wars.

The poster itself is just tired and corny--another faux-edgy take on a very played-out visual gag; its capacity for humor has long since been exhausted.

It's not just the Catholic League, Kevin. It's them, and the Concerned Women for America, Michelle Malkin, Andrew Sullivan, Chris Crain, and others. Fox News, CBN, One news now have all covered it. It's a little more than just one person.

I don't see the faux divide here. In fact, I don't even know how that applies to this situation. And I don't think it was meant to be funny - just interesting to look at.

Also register to comment, Kevin, so I don't have to approve you all the time!

"...but this affair is rather telling when it comes to homophobia, Christian sexophobia, and cultural appropriation."

Wow - that's a lot of "phobias"! How about Christophobia on the part of this community. Here is the game that is being played:

You stick your thumb in a favorite target's eye, then use the target's outrage as evidence of their bigotry.

And no one is supposed to notice that the conscious and deliberate (this is an advertising campaign after all) selection of the target is itself evidence of bigotry.

Or this response to Andrews ( the "homocon" - you have as many short, pity, dismissive names for groups as an old-fashioned, colorful, Bull Connor-type bigot) challenge:

"even though I doubt many Americans would recognize much Muslim art from the late 15th century, and the Muslims don't allow for portraits of Muhammad because that could result in idolatry."

The purpose of this oh-so-daringly chosen "parody" was to trigger a reaction in the "...phobia" groups, claim victimization from the reaction, generate some buzz, and have the community congratulating itself on courageously "speaking truth to power blah blah blah" Pick a target group enemy in order to mobilize your base, a strategy quite common among bigots. But in this case all of this is just a minor league game. To really push the envelope, to really be daring, and provocative, next years fair should have a cartoon of Muhammed as an S/M ponyboy. But that's a game you dare not play.

For anything you said to make any sense, this would have to be an insult to Christianity. I argued that it's not. You haven't even tried to disprove me.

I don't think this was meant to be an insult or a parody (or a "parody", for that matter), I was thinking it's more like an homage. Or just something that was supposed to be culturally recognizable and significant/noteworthy for that recognition.

Is it your position that this wasn't provocative? It seems like it provoked you.

And you can't really say that I'm dismissive of Andrew Sullivan. I don't know why I've gotten that rep as being an Andrew Sullivan hater or a Dan Savage hater. I don't hate! Homocon is a term of endearment!

Alex, all the people you mentioned are of the pundit-class. These are not really the people who make up populace of the actual religious right. CWA is not actually very influential or powerful--just noisy. Michelle Malkin employs perpetual outrage as her gimmick, but she's totally irrelevant to the religious right. And Sullivan and Crain aren't part of the religious right either--they're just playing into the same dumb culture wars junk (Sullivan in service of his islamophobia).

I place this in the long line of manufactured pseudo-controversies--analogous to Britney Spears' "sacreligious" appearance on Will & Grace.

Frankly, i think people sometimes insist on pissing off Christians for no good reason, just so they can prove how "edgy" and "radical" they are. Stupid stupid stupid.

NEWS FLASH: it's easy to offend Bill Donohue OMG SHOCKER!!!!

This looks my house after Rocky Horror.

"For anything you said to make any sense, this would have to be an insult to Christianity. I argued that it's not. You haven't even tried to disprove me."

Ok, I'll take the bait :)

Let's consider the Fair organizers statement of this:

"Next year’s poster ad may take inspiration from American Gothic by Grant Wood or Edvard Munch’s The Scream or even The Sound of Music! I guess it wouldn’t be Folsom Street Fair without offending some extreme members of the global community, though."

An admission that they chose now, and will continue to choose posters that will give offense. The target is "extreme members of the global community." Hmmm - who might "extreme members of the global community" refer to. The Sound of Music Jihad? Da Vinci fanatics? Renaissance painting fanatics? Western Civilization fanatics? (getting warmer) Christian fanatics - yeah!!!!! Let's go for it it - this ought to draw some fire!

The conceit here is that the Fair exhibits a sort of brave edginess, that they are pathfinders in flushing out and confronting "global extremists." Next year's contest will be very interesting, because someone will likely submit an entry that will be sure to give offense to a different set of global extremists. Expect a different Fair poster selection process next year, orientated towards inclusion and respect that will eliminate such entries from consideration.

A statement that some may be offended is not the same as an intent to offend, nor is it the same as it actually being offensive. Even you say that it's just offensive to "Christian fanatics", not mainstream, fair-minded, and moderate Christians. Fanatics of any religion are easily offended, and many of those same "fanatics" are offended by my mere existence.

In that same press release the board president says:

We are extremely pleased with the outcome of this poster, and we are looking forward to a particularly inspirational event season. There is no intention to be particularly pro-religion or anti-religion with this poster; the image is intended only to be reminiscent of the ‘Last Supper’ painting. It is a distinctive representation of diversity with women and men, people of all colors and sexual orientations.

You know, just in case intent is important. I still hold that there's nothing here that's should be taken as an offense to Christianity.

Alex in my opinion (and I admit no one really knows) the Fair organizers suspected a reaction would occur, and made a deliberate decision to proceed.

I think of myself as a mainstream Christian, and am not really offended by the poster. I'm worried about the escalating Balkanization of society, with people being drawn to extremes, and I fear this will escalate further. What does offend me is people taking pride in being offensive. Playing with fire is dangerous in a pluralistic society, because they are fragile things.

To risk a hypothetical question - would this be considered intentionally offensive?

September 25, 2008
Poster image draws inspiration from the annual Islamic Hajj, in a poster entitled: Masjid al-Harem.

Folsom Street Events has released its latest poster design for the 25TH Annual Folsom Street Fair. This year, the official poster, drawn by renowned artist Theo van Gogh, uses well-known community members as players in a strikingly original interpretation of the annual, worldwide pilgrimage to Mecca. The poster is the second in a series that draws from well-known paintings, album covers, movie posters, or other iconic images. Community members celebrate exuberant sexuality by donning their S/M regalia, and dancing around not the Kaaba, but a 10 story phallus.

According to Andy Copper, Board President, “We are extremely pleased with the outcome of this poster, and we are looking forward to a particularly inspirational event season. There is no intention to be particularly pro-religion or anti-religion with this poster; the image is intended only to celebrate the sacred roots of raw sexuality. It is a distinctive representation of diversity with women and men, people of all colors and sexual orientations. Just as Mecca draws people of all races throughout the world, we hope people from all continents will come come celebrate with us!”

Folsom Street Events acknowledges that many of the people in the leather and fetish communities are spiritual and that this poster image is a way of expressing that side of the community’s interests and beliefs. This year, Folsom Street Fair is dedicated to “San Francisco Values,” previously used against the San Francisco community for its support of sexual diversity and now used by Folsom Street Events as a way to reclaim power by the fetish community.

Andy Copper, adds “We hope that people will enjoy the artistry for what it is – nothing more or less. Many people choose to speculate on deeper meanings. This is one artist’s imagining of a pilgrimage that is at one both sexual and sacred - all we did was adopt the iconography of Mecca and we have made it our own. The irony is that homosexuality has a long and wonderful history in Islam. In truth, we are going to produce a series of inspired poster images over the next few years. Next year’s poster ad may take inspiration from American Gothic by Grant Wood, the flag raising at Iwo Jima, or even Raphael's 'The School of Athens' - community members are already preparing for roles in that one!"

When asked about the murder of the poster artist, Theo van Gogh, and the worldwide rioting that has claimed dozens of lives, Copper said: "I guess it wouldn’t be Folsom Street Fair without offending some extreme members of the global community, though.”

It’s not that it’s a response of homophobia (I am definitely not), it’s just puzzling.

If a group of people get together and create a scene of, I don’t know, let’s just say of gay people burning in hell (like what some of the Fundamentalists do around Halloween with their alternative haunted house attractions), shouldn’t people in GLBT community be offended?

If people are going to call Catholics and others who protest against the Folsom Street Poster (as seen above) homophobic, sexophobic, and guilty of cultural appropriation, then the same people shouldn’t mind when they get called blasphemous or sinners or the like (I don’t agree with that kind of behavior either).

I don’t approve of grouping the entire GLBT community here as responsible for the Folsom Street Poster nor would I group them together for adverse judgment as some do. I also don’t approve of “pots calling kettles black” or people in glass houses throwing stones.

I do approve of what a wise man once said in something called “The Golden Rule”: “Do unto others as you have them do unto you” and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

It isn't okay to do anything that smacks of an anti-Semitic them (people would really be up in arms) so why is always okay to take anti-Catholic jabs? If we do not want others to insult our lifestyle or beliefs, then we should be careful not to do the same ourselves.

STF~ I was going to have a lengthier response, but I'm just going to leave it with saying that I don't see how it's offensive outside of the context of homophobia/sexophobia. If it is, then all those other Last Suppers should be, but no one cared about those. I spent the weekend at my Catholic boyfriend's house, and I asked him about this, and he said that he thought it was just a nice photo to look at. I think this responds to Kevin as well, who thought it was faux-edgy, I just think that it's as (faux) edgy as the Fair itself is and is a nice photo as well.

About the comparison to Theo van Gogh, well that's different on several levels. First, what happened to him was completely wrong, and I think we both agree here that killing whoever organized the Folsom Street poster would be as well. Second, you're implying that he would be murdered over a poster like this, which I don't really see how that proves anyone's point here, which I also don't know to be true. People make fun of Islam all the time (Ann Coulter, etc.) and don't end up dead over it. Third, no, I don't think your hypothetical sounds offensive at all, if it's done with an underlying respect for Islam or sexual liberation and not just to try to spite a segment of the population. (I'm thinking this is where we diverge, and honestly we're never going to divine the intention of the Fair people here in the comments.)

Carlos~ Whatevs. I don't think it's an "anti-Catholic jab". Your arg falls apart there.

And usually when someone says that they're "definitely not" homophobic, it's a good sign that they are.

There is no way to know without asking the creators of the Folsom Street ad whether or not they may have meant it to be an anti-Catholic jab. My comment was that it much more acceptable to not worry about doing so then something that might be construed as anti-Semitic, for example. The question was rhetorical, so forgive me if I didn't make it clear enough. I was not presenting an apologetic argument with data, so there was no "argument" I meant to present to see whether or not it could stand testing.

Secondly, I mentioned homophobia because you did in your article. I'm a homosexual. To say that anyone who states they are not homophobic "is a good sign that they are" is not logical, because all my gay friends would agree that they also are not homophobic. Does that mean they are as well. Either I misunderstood your comment (and that is possible) or you are mistaken.

Why I am not sure how my comments were taken exactly, I do feel that you what you got from first blush was reading something far more than intended.

mike slinger | October 7, 2007 3:05 AM

It seems to me to be a blatant attempt to garner attention. If you really want to poke someone in the eye(figuratively), why not use images of Muhammed or Muslims? I would assume, that you and others that find mocking Christianity amusing, would not risk that venture, as you value your heads. It is easy to mock Christianity, because it is a belief that is not bent on revenge, while Islamists would strike at the very heart(literally)of those that would insult or mock them.

WOW the big bad Folsom street COWARDS pick on the christans again,these COWARDS pick on people who won't fight back,come on you COWARDS pick on ISLAM or crawl back in your dungeons and beat some puppies while you drink Miller beer.