Sunday, January 27, 2008

China's Great Wall of Silence: Dr. Wang Rongfen Fights Back Against Carma Hinton

Below is an extraordinary rebuttal to Carma

Hinton and Morning Sun by a courageous

woman who personally confronted Mao

Zedong at the beginning of the Cultural

Revolution and told him that sanctioning

Red Guard violence made him like Adolph


—— 分析一个为文革张目的野蛮网站
Red Guards, Maoists, Misanthropes
Analyzing a barbaric Cultural Revolution Web site
By Wang Rongfen, 地址栏里先弹出一个幽灵般的毛泽东头像。这东西对我的刺激,不比犹太人见到希特勒的幽灵弱。
Logging onto the Web site, one is first greeted by a ghost-like image of Mao Zedong. In me this provokes a reaction something like what I imagine Jews feel upon encountering an image of Hitler.
This Web site, entitled “Morning Sun,” describes itself as devoted to scholarly research on the Cultural Revolution: "A range of techniques and perspectives are used in the Morning Sun website to reflect on the origins and history of the Cultural Revolution (c.1964-1976). We approach the period not from a simplistic linear perspective, but from a panoptic one, encompassing a broad overview while allowing the user to focus in on individual histories, narratives and events that reveal the complex contradictory forces that led to an era of unrivalled revolutionary fervor and political turmoil."
In my browsing of the Web site, however, I have not found any exploration, analysis or unearthing of facts, not a single treatise or research report, but only posters and propaganda from the Cultural Revolution period, as well as the Web site's own promotional material, and a very strange female voice repeatedly instructing Americans how to say the Chinese words for "Long - Live - Chairman - Mao."
1) A Web site dedicated to the exhibition of violence and praise of Mao
The facts that the Web site presents regarding Mao Zedong, the Cultural Revolution and the Red Guards have nothing in common with what I know of them. The Chinese government's thorough repudiation of the Cultural Revolution in 1979 has now been turned on its head, and a reversal of the verdicts on the top three people blamed for the Revolution has caused an uproar. Given the lack of consensus, analysis of this Web site is best performed on a case-by-case basis. The Khmer Rouge, following the example of the Cultural Revolution, committed gross crimes against humanity for which its officials are now being tried by a United Nations tribunal. The evil performed during the Cultural Revolution was on a much grander scale than that of the Khmer Rouge and lasted even longer; it was genocide on an unprecedented scale. The prime instigator of the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong, was the tutor of the Khmer Rouge and therefore the principal culprit in both atrocities. Heaven may have let Mao and Pol Pot off lightly, but history will never forgive them. As for Mao's Red Guards, the number of people they killed, the heinousness of their methods and the severity of their crimes far outstrips that of the Hitler Youth and qualifies them as a group dedicated to violent acts against humanity. Using this standard as a basis for analysis, the information that makes up the Morning Sun Web site is an advertisement for poison, in which the images of Mao Zedong and the Red Guards are used to peddle the toxic violence of the Cultural Revolution, giving glory to shame and portraying evil as the highest morality.
1. 网站首页: 毛泽东万岁!
The Web site home page: Long live Mao Zedong!
The creators of the Web site have borrowed a cover photo from a Cultural Revolution-era issue of "Renmin Huabao" depicting a Chinese family performing a song on stage. Eight Chinese people are lined up from youngest to oldest; each wears a Mao badge and clutches a Little Red Book, their faces glowing with happiness and their lips parted in wide smiles. Leading them is song is a child of three or four around whose waist is wrapped the kind of leather belt with which Red Guards whipped their victims. The words to the song they're singing are emblazoned beneath the enormous Mao portrait that hangs on the wall behind them: Long live Chairman Mao. The "wallpaper" of the homepage is quotations from Mao Zedong, highlighting the phrase from which the Web site draws its name: "You young people... are like the morning sun."
2. 喧嚣的文革歌曲、电视、电影
A clamor of Cultural Revolution songs, television programs and films
栏目的名称反映网站的立场,第一栏叫“革命生活”,展示文革初期卡玛精心收集的音乐和画面。文革收音机反复播送“造反有理”等语录歌、毛泽东诗词歌、毛泽东颂歌(“北京的金山上”和“大 海航行靠舵手”)、样板戏选段以及歌颂红卫兵和文革的歌曲“我们是毛主席的红卫兵”、“无产阶级文化大革命就是好”、 “学习16条说唱”。唯一的解说辞是没完没了的“毛主席万岁!万岁!万岁!万岁!”
The Morning Sun site map reflects the Web site's position. The first section is entitled "Living Revolution," and exhibits music and photographs collected by Carma Hinton from the early years of the Cultural Revolution. It includes radio broadcasts of revolutionary songs, anthems and poems praising Mao, such as "Sailing the Seas Depends on the Helmsman," and selections from model operas and songs extolling the Red Guards and the Cultural Revolution, such as "I am Chairman Mao's Red Guard," "The Proletarian Cultural Revolution is Good" and "Let's Study the Sixteen Points."
There is also a "Cultural Revolution Television" showing six "channels" of clips:
1频道,画面是 毛泽东 在天安门上检阅游行队伍,配以语录大合唱“领导我们事业的核心力量是中国共产党,指导我们思想的理论基础是马克思列宁的主义”。十几只嗓子齐喊“共产党万岁!毛主席万岁!万岁!万岁!万万岁!”
Channel 1: "A colossal parade in Tiananmen Square celebrates the cult of Mao." The accompanying recording is of a chorus singing, "The force at the core leading our cause forward is the Chinese Communist Party. The theoretical basis guiding our thinking is Marxism-Leninism," followed by shouts of "Long live the Communist Party!" and "Long love Chairman Mao! Long live! Long live! Long live!"
2频道,舞台上一个穿阿尔巴尼亚民族服装的女人唱万岁毛主席,两个男人手鼓和手风琴伴奏。解说词:“我们最亲密的战友阿尔巴尼亚同志演唱歌颂毛主席的歌曲:在世界各地,亿万群众同声把您歌唱,毛主席啊, 您是世界革命的舵手,世界人民永远把您歌唱。”然后是“毛主席万岁”的拖腔儿。
Channel 2: A woman in Albanian costume sings, accompanied by two similarly costumed male musicians. A transcript of the accompanying narration reads, "Our closest comrades-in-arms, comrades from Albania, are performing a song in praise of Chairman Mao. Everywhere around the world, tens of millions of masses sing in one voice for you. Chairman Mao, you are the helmsman for the world revolution! People around the world will sing for you forever!" The song is followed by repeated shouts of "Long live Chairman Mao!"
3频道,画面是天安门前的游行队伍,街上的巨幅毛招贴画,大串连,男女老少手捧小红书。 大海航行靠舵手的乐曲中,一个女人解说:“我们伟大领袖毛主席亲自发动领导的文 化大革取得了辉煌的胜利,在我国各地,到处是一片热气腾腾的革命景象,到处都闪耀着毛泽东思想的金光。”
Channel 3: The film clip shows a parade in Tiananmen Square, huge posters of Mao in the streets and large groups of people of all ages reading their Little Red Books. A woman narrates, "The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, personally launched and led by our great leader Chairman Mao, has achieved glorious success. Everywhere around our nation, revolutionary scenes seethe with activity. Everywhere shines the golden light of Mao Zedong Thought."
4频道,“毛主席万岁”喊声延续所有画面:毛泽东和张玉凤挎着胳膊在天安门城楼上走来,接见红卫兵 ,下面一张张激动的孩子脸,挥舞小红书的胳膊。
Channel 4: Shouts of "Long live Chairman Mao" ring over a film clip showing Mao Zedong arm-in-arm with “personal secretary” Zhang Yufeng on Tiananmen Gate reviewing a rally of more than a million Red Guards. Below is shown a sea of ecstatic young faces and dancing arms waving Little Red Books.
5频道,乱七八糟的画面,呜咽的汽笛。女人解说:“在毛主席最新指示鼓舞下, 全国展开了一个上山下乡的大动员,开始了一场波兰状阔的伟大进军。革命的家长们,怀着对毛主席的无限忠心,把子女送到乡下当农民。毛主席的最新指示是反修防 锈的百年大计千年大计,是革命青年前进道路上的指路明。再见,祝你们在光阔的天地里这锻炼成长,再见,祝你们沿着毛主席指引的光明大道奋勇前进。”
Channel 5: A hodgepodge of footage accompanied by the scream of a train whistle. A female narrator says, “Chairman Mao’s latest directive has inspired a nation of young people to go to the countryside. A great campaign is unfolding on a magnificent scale. Revolutionary parents, imbued with loyalty to Chairman Mao, are sending their children to the countryside to be farmers. Chairman Mao’s great plan is to combat and prevent revisionism for a thousand years; it is the beacon lighting the advance of revolutionary youth. Farewell, you will learn and grow in the vast countryside! Farewell, you will advance along the bright broad road led by Chairman Mao.”
6频道,在敬祝毛主席万寿无疆的标题下,展示 不同年龄的6种毛像 ,全都配放金光,精心造神。
Channel 6: Accompanied by wishes for long life, six portraits of Mao Zedong at different stages of his life are presented, each radiating with a godlike glow.
Apart from the Cultural Revolutionary television, it is also possible to view short clips from films promoting class struggle and the Proletarian Cultural Revolution, such as "The Red Detachment of Women," "The Red Lantern," "On the Docks," "Never Forget," "Pine Ridge," "A Rooster Crows at Midnight," "Golden Road" and "Lenin in 1918."
网站在这个栏目里还自创了《25个怎么办(对照毛主席语录找答案)》,画面内容与题目对不上号,网站自己的解说词是: 生活中遇到困难怎么办?听到反动言论怎么办?......:放之四海而皆准的毛泽东思想可以解答一切疑难和困惑。《活学活用毛主席著作》小折子可供随身携带,以便随时解惑答疑。——这不是资料展示,而是后文革时代毛分子的布道。
The Web site also presents "Ask Chairman Mao for the Answers," but there is some discrepancy between the description and the actual feature. The Web site description runs: "How should you resolve problems in your daily life? What should you do when you hear reactionary speech?... Mao Zedong Thought can answer all your questions and problems. This pamphlet, "Living by the Book," can be carried with you as a reference." This is not a display of material from that time, but rather the evangelizing of Maoists from the post-Cultural Revolution era.
《文革英文课》只有一课,网站的解说词是: “教育为无产阶级政治服务”,毛泽东的教育方针统帅学校。当年的中小学生们,还记得自己曾用过的“革命教材”中的只言片语吗?原来是网站作者的回忆!
The section entitled "English Lessons" includes only one lesson, described as "education in service to proletarian politics" under the leadership of Mao Zedong. Do primary and secondary school students from that era remember any of the words and phrases learned in those "revolutionary teaching materials"? It turns out this is the recollection of the Web site's creator!
[Translator's note: The English version of the Web site observes disparagingly: "Even those who could speak had to parrot inanities; those who studied English had to learn the simple lessons of Mao Thought as applied to such topics as race relations in the U.S."]
3. 践踏人权的画面:砸烂旧世界!
Depicting Trampling on Human Rights: Smash the Old World!
This section of the Web site presents written materials and photographs from the Cultural Revolution, accompanied by a "Library" of 18 articles divided up under the headings "Educational Reform," "Smashing the Four Olds," "Overthrowing Reactionaries," "Establishing Ties" and "Human Miracles." Apart from the subtle criticism offered in "Smashing the Four Olds" and "Human Miracles," all of the essays are laudatory.
[Translator's note: The English version of the Web site includes English translations of some of these essays, but under different category headings, and also includes essays by Western scholars.]
The 48 photographs collected in this section are brutal depictions of Red Guard violence that makes one's blood boil. The Web site makes only a sweeping statement at the introduction of the section; there are no comments from people who actually experienced the Cultural Revolution, and no explanations of the background of the photos. The Web site creator, Carma Hinton, knows Chinese and knows about some of the public figures and famous religious sites depicted, but there is not a single description of any of the photos.
Even more inexplicable is the Web site's inclusion of "Jiang Qing's Denunciation of Feature Films," which quotes Jiang Qing's criticism of 11 films without further comment. Here is a sampling of Jiang Qing's criticisms:
Hero in the Bandit's Den: "It prettifies the agent Ah Lan. That dance scene is an egregious display of the bourgeois lifestyle. It distorts the image of the underground [Party] agent. Made up, Commander Lei looks more like the enemy than the enemy. Wiping out the bandits is done without mobilizing the masses. It's all about sending people in. Like Snow in the Forest this [kind of depiction] comes from the Soviet Union."
The Young People in Our Village: "It depicts four couples in triangular relationships and in the process distorts the [revolutionary] spiritual mien of youth in the country. There are no heroic figures; they are all middle-of-the-road characters. It vilifies revolutionary cadres; the older head of the commune is depicted as a stick in the mud; the accountant is made out to be a negative character."
Five Golden Flowers: "The whole film is about one couple; everyone else is merely there to highlight their love affair. In regard to the ethnic minorities there is no attempt to depict them making any progress, their political maturation or the changes in their outlook. All they do is eat, drink and fall in love. All those love songs are [also] very problematic."
Lei Feng: "It has faults. It is unreasonable to squeeze all of his good acts into just one day. The portrait of the Chairman in the film is bad; it constitutes a political error. It's no good that Lei Feng's legacy of good deeds is taken up by Wang Dali, a middle-of-the-road character. The portrayal of the head of the flood crisis operations team is inappropriate. He says to Lei Feng, 'You're a good successor [to the revolutionary cause],' but then he ends up dying. That's just wrong.'"
Big Li, Little Li and Old Li: "Crass and vulgar. To set the film in an abattoir is itself devious. It hints that we will be slaughtered like pigs. The cadres are either fat pigs or skinny monkeys. They lock the workshop head in the freezer; all the cadres are made out to be like swine."
《野火春风斗古城》“ 杨晓东在关键时刻软弱;金环象泼妇,拔簪刺敌人不合理;银环是中间人物,屡犯错误,与杨晓东一见钟情,过分写了这段爱情。杨母三次出场,两次是给儿子说媳妇,歪曲了革命母亲的形象。”
Struggle for an Ancient City in the Fire and Winds of Spring: "Yang Xiaodong betrays weakness at a crucial moment; Jin Huan is like a fishwife: there's that silly scene when she stabs the enemy with her hair pin. Yin Huan is a middle-of-the-road character who constantly makes mistakes, and she falls in love the moment she lays eyes on Yang Xiaodong. Far too much time is devoted to their relationship. Two of the three times that Yang's mother appears it's to talk about her daughter-in-law. This is a distortion of the image of a revolutionary mother."
Following are more sections entitled "Reddest Red Sun," "Stages of History" and "The East is Red," which although still under construction are already crammed with the epic revolutionary ballet "The East is Red," including a full video recording accompanied by transcripts in English and Chinese. The personality cult vehicle is described as "start(ing) out as a peasant love song... you can follow its progress to becoming a call to arms in the Anti-Japanese War, and a paean extolling Chairman Mao, the savior of the Chinese people... This stage production presented a creation myth, an historical vision, a belief system, and a moral landscape in which the generation of the Cultural Revolution came of age." The Web site strengthens the impact of the opera by presenting it in different contexts in several different sections.
A Dyed-in-the Wool Maoist
The producer of the Web site, Carma Hinton, is no adolescent girl, but a mature American woman in her 50s. Her enthusiastic promotion of Mao Zedong and the Red Guards and the inhuman Cultural Revolution is closely related to her family history. When teacher Chen Baokun was beaten to death, Hinton was an upper-classman at the No. 101 Middle School. She took part in the rebellion, and the Bureau of Foreign Experts had tracked her participation. The Foreign Languages Institute had a European professor and his family who were humiliated and framed by her and ultimately imprisoned. At that time she was known as Carmelita, and residents of Beijing aged 60 or older are invariably familiar with her name. She was better known at that time than Song Binbin (renamed Yaowu) or Peng Xiaomeng, and was second only to people such as Kuai Dafu and Wang Dabing. Carmelita was the leader of the rebels among the foreign youth, and her photograph was published in People's Daily.
卡玛丽达的母亲史克是外国人里的聂元梓,1966年8月31日,史克和卡玛的姑妈寒春、姑父阳早等4人贴出了所谓“外国专家的第一张马列主义大字报”,炮轰外国专家局的“牛鬼蛇神”,咄咄逼人抗议给他们的优厚待遇,强调他们的后代“必须成为坚强可靠的革命接班人,而决不允许他们变成修正主义分子”,为此要求批准他们和他们的孩子参加“革命运动”。下面是这张御批马列大字报的抄件,其措辞比聂元梓们的更带杀气,又添了几分西方人少见的媚气 :
Carmelita's mother Bertha Sneck was the prime muckraker among China's foreign residents. On August 31, 1966, she and Carma's aunt, Joan Hinton, and Joan's husband, Erwin Engst, put up what they called the "first Marxist big character poster by foreign experts," attacking the "cow demons and snake spirits" in the Bureau of Foreign Experts. They aggressively protested the generous terms of their employment and stressed that their children "must become staunch and dependable successors to the revolution, and must not be allowed to become revisionists," and on that basis demanded that they and their children participate in "revolutionary activities." Following is an excerpt from that Marxist big character poster, the wording of which incorporated a unique Western flavor into a stridency matching the most radical Chinese activists:
Big Character Poster Directed at the Bureau of Foreign Experts
Why have foreigners working at the heart of world revolution been pushed onto the road of revisionism??? Which cow demons and snake spirits have ordered this treatment for foreigners? Foreigners working in China, regardless of which class they belong to or what attitude they have toward revolution, have all received the same treatment of "five nos and two haves": The "five nos": 1) No physical labor; 2) no thought reform; 3) no opportunity for contact with workers, peasants or soldiers; 4) no class struggle; 5) no production struggle. The "two haves": 1) high remuneration; 2) all manner of privileges.
On what ideological basis has this treatment been established? It is not Mao Zedong thought, it is Khruschev thought, it is revisionist thought, it is the ideology of class exploitation. What is the purpose of doing this? What is the result? 1) It makes foreigners who want revolution unable to grasp Mao Zedong thought, and only able to parrot its precepts; 2) It causes a decline in the revolutionary will of revolutionary foreigners, so that they slide onto the road of revisionism; 3) It hinders China's foreign children from growing into staunch revolutionaries. 4) It causes segregation between revolutionary foreigners and their Chinese class brethren, destroys their class sentiment, destroys proletarian internationalism. We feel this is not someone else's problem, but is a problem that affects the principles of world revolution, and we firmly oppose this kind of treatment.
We resolutely desire to become staunch revolutionaries and steadfast warriors against revisionism. In order to advance the struggle against American imperialism to the end, we are determinedly engaging in physical exercise and testing ourselves. Our children must become staunch and dependable successors to the revolution, and must not be allowed to become revisionists.
For this reason we make the following demands: 1) Treat us as class brethren and not as capitalist experts; 2) Allowed and encourage us to take part in physical labor; 3) Help us undergo thought reform; 4) Allow and encourage us to closely integrate with the worker and peasant masses; 5) Help and encourage us to take part in the three great revolutionary activities; 6) Our children and the children of China should receive the same treatment and the same strict demands; 7) Our living standards should be the same as Chinese workers of the same class; 8) Abolish all privileges. Only in this way can we become the revolutionaries required by Chairman Mao.
Long live the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution! Long live the great unity of the peoples of the world! Long live the great and invincible Mao Zedong Thought! Long live Comrade Mao Zedong, great leader of the Chinese people, of the oppressed world proletariat and of the oppressed peoples of the world! Long live!
美国:阳早、史克、寒春、汤普金森   1966年8月29日1
U.S.A.: Yang Zao [Erwin Engst], Shi Ke [Bertha Sneck], Han Chun [Joan Hinton], Tangpu Jinsen [Ann Tomkins], August 29, 1966
What kind of psychological urges led these Western adults, raised in Latinate intellectual circles, to become rebels? A group of Americans running to the heart of the city to vindicate themselves, not hesitating to fuel the flames licking the feet of the head of the Foreign Language Bureau, not conferring with their colleagues, speaking for China's foreigners in calling for a decline in their living standards, and speaking for all foreigners in pledging loyalty to a tyrant. I do not believe that they were duped and misled; only being blinded by lust for gain could lead them to make such fools of themselves and act in a way so shaming to their ancestors.
On September 8, Mao Zedong wrote a memo on the big character poster by Bertha Sneck and the others:
To Comrades Lin Biao, Premier [Zhao Enlai], Chen Yi, Tao Zhu and [Chen] Boda:
I agree with this big character poster; foreign revolutionary experts and their children must be treated the same as Chinese and not differently. Please discuss this among yourselves and make all things the same. Please decide how to go about it.
Under this imperial edict, Carma's family jubilantly found their wishes fulfilled. Carma's aunt, Joan Hinton, proclaimed Mao Zedong savior of the world in a meeting to "expose and criticize the capitalist reactionary road of the Foreign Experts Bureau": "Now we hear Chairman Mao's voice! Chairman Mao has no boundaries, he is the liberator of all the peoples of the world, he unreservedly believes the people can liberate themselves. With just a few words, Chairman Mao has smashed to smithereens the schemes and intrigues of the counterrevolutionary revisionists causing division among the proletariat of the world. We have shaken off our fetters! The door has been opened to us! Now it is up to us to swim on our own!"
Carma Hinton's family was allowed to fulfill their wishes to join the Chinese in the violence of the Cultural Revolution. The People's Daily published a photograph of Carma and other children of foreign experts returning to Beijing after participating in the big link-up of the Red Guards, with the deceptive caption, "Carmelita Hinton leads a delegation of American youths to Beijing."
In 1971, the United States had just embarked on its dialogue with China. Zhao Enlai invited Carma's father, William Hinton, back to China, and during the seven months of his visit, Hinton was summoned to see Zhao five times, with Carma and her stepmother, Joanne Raiford, accompanying him each time. Often Carma's paternal grandmother, Carmelita Hinton, as well as her mother, aunt and uncle were also present. On the lonely foreign affairs stage, the Hinton family appeared with Cambodia's Pol Pot and Khieu Samphan, serving as guests of honor in barbarous countries spurned by the rest of the world. During the lengthy interviews with Hinton, Zhao Enlai explained the origins and goals of the Cultural Revolution and allowed Hinton to visit Wang Guangmei, the widow of Liu Shaoqi, to gain an understanding of Liu's crimes. He also said a great deal to distance himself from the "counterrevolutionaries," in particular Liu Lingkai, a student at the Beijing Foreign Studies University. At that time, Zhang Jianqi, a student at the Metallurgy Institute who had early on put up a big character poster criticizing Zhao Enlai, had been executed, and Zhao, who had the reputation of erring on the side of mercy, was still not placated, but launched a national movement to purge counterrevolutionaries that became the most wide-scale and long-lasting white terror movement, continuing right up until the end of the Cultural Revolution.
After returning to China, William Hinton busied himself with two matters: one was to create a U.S.-China Friendship Association, of which he became the founding chairman, and the second was to publish “New China” Magazine, in which he included an article about his meetings with Zhao Enlai, publicized China's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and became an iron-clad Maoist helping China export the violence of the Cultural Revolution. Fortunately Hinton was only a fellow-traveler and did not personally take part in the evil committed by Mao's disciples in the Khmer Rouge or the Baader-Meinhof Gang.
Young Carmelita followed the "class line" principle of "the son of a hero will be a good man," and now in her 50s continues to use the same tools as her father and aunt to earn a living while doing her utmost to continue her family's work by spreading to every corner the promotion of violence in service to the Great Leader. Promoting violence is the purpose of the film "Morning Sun" produced by Carma and her cohorts, and the section of her Web site devoted to explaining the purpose of this film about the Cultural Revolution, she uses the questions William Hinton posed to Zhao Enlai in his interviews regarding the origins and the history of the cultural revolution. The film uses a real person with a false name to express the feelings of the film's producer: "Their parents killed our parents, so now we must kill them." Leaving aside whether or not their parents actually did kill your parents, your killing them still constitutes murder.
The Cultural Revolution entered history 40 years ago, and the Red Guards of that time have become grandfathers and grandmothers, but Carma continues to teach the bloodline theory to the third generation with cries of "kill, kill, kill." Even in China it is impossible to mount such an aggressive rehabilitation of the Cultural Revolution, yet it can be performed so brazenly in the United States of America. I don't understand why in the United States, where human rights were first incorporated into a national constitution, taxpayers' money has been used to subsidize a Web site and film that trample on human rights, promote violence and sing the praises of a tyrant.
Translated by Stacy Mosher

Drawing Lines

On page 48 of February's Vogue is a full-color ad

of a kneeling, bare-shouldered beauty applying fire-

engine red lipstick. Her lips are slightly parted and

her wide-open green eyes look directly at the camera

with a caught-in-the-act expression.

On page 49 of this two-page ad is a knees-to navel

shot of a blue-jeaned man wearing a distressed leather

belt whose concave metal buckle gauzely reflects the

face of the woman. The camera angle is centered

directly on the man's crotch. The woman is so close

that her brown hair touches the man from navel

to knees. Her red lips are inches away from the man's

jeans zipper.

The ad served its purpose, I stopped leafing and

paused on it. The photos are such close-ups that

it takes a split-second to sink in. I laughed, it was

so direct.

The ad was not for lipstick, nor for men's jeans, but

for Belvedere vodka. I laughed again. I have written

here previously of the the ever-diminishing line between

fashion and sex photography. I like both a lot but am

jarred when I see the latter so prominent in the former.

If I'm reading a fashion magazine it is not for sexual

stimulation. When I'm looking at porn I'm not interested

in what the women are wearing, or could be wearing.

There, I'm looking for crotch shots.

In Washington I attended the Annie Liebovitz exhibition

at the Corcoran Gallery. She is a good photographer

and her work often appears in Vogue. At the entrance to

the exhibition, at the top of a staircase, was a full-length,

full-color nude of Cindy Crawford from her super-model

days. My girlfriend thought that she was stunningly

beautiful. I did too, but not in the same way I think an

Ansel Adams photo beautiful (there was an Adams

exhibition at the Corcoran too). The photo of Crawford

was sexually stimulating. I was too embarrassed to

look at it closely, as one would a piece of "art."

At least the subject matter of the Crawford photo was

beautiful. Not so of the--many--nude photographs of

a near-death Susan Sontag in the Liebovitz exhibit. I

didn't enjoy the Liebovitz exhibit at all.

This morning I was again leafing, through the January

28 issue of The New Yorker. The "Talk of the Town"

article is on the romance and impending marriage of

French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian actress/

bombshell Carla Bruni. France, of course, has always

had very...tolerant...attitudes toward sex and infidelity,

even among its political leaders. The Sarkozy-Bruni

affair however has not played well. Part, because

Bruni is tacky, and the French are not tolerant of the

tacky. The New Yorker article is written by Adam

Gopnik and it is so well-written that it deserves to be

quoted directly:

"The Italian model and singer, who has been

around several blocks, many of them touristique,

in her career--Mick Jagger and Donald Trump

have both been mentioned--took up with the new

President last fall, and was photographed with

him at Disneyland Paris and Luxor, among other


Donald Trump and Disneyland Paris. Those are

two strikes of tackiness right there, and the French

smell a rat, the rat of infuriating American tackiness,

in the whole thing. The French press,

"has struggled, with subtle semiotic hints, to place

[the affair] linguistically in the right geography:

L'Express, in its cover story on the pair, called

Sarkozy 'Le President "People" (with the word

'people' in English, so that nobody would miss the


In a reversal that further exasperates the French, the

American press has covered the story as one typically

French. "Zey are a funny race," is how Gopnik sums

up the American reaction.

The lines between Fashion and Art (sophisticated) and

pornography (tacky) are blurred, but real, and at the

intersection is Sex (enjoyed, celebrated, but sometimes

tacky). Each of us draws these lines in different places,

and where we draw them depends on our attitudes

towards sex. I enjoy porn but only in private; it's

like going to the bathroom. Both involve natural,

inescapable bodily needs, but I close the door when

doing both because I am embarrassed by both. When

I'm in the mood I don't see anything tacky about porn;

I feel only the incredible sexual high of seeing the

women. But when I see a porn when I'm not in the

mood I see only its tackiness, and turn away.

Having sex has always, of course, thrilled me, but

also depressed me. "Third base is best," I read a

woman write recently. "The best sex organ is

the mind," someone else has written. Imagining

sex with a woman who has caught my eye is

breathtakingly exciting. Getting aroused by

the sight of desirable women several times a

day becomes tedious for me and distracting.

I've got other things that I want to do and my

sex drive interferes. Then there's shame again.

I feel puerile, I feel guilty at reacting to a woman,

often a colleague or friend, so one-dimensionally.

Having sex (on the few occasions I have) with

a woman my mind has lusted after, has usually

been anti-climactic, both figuratively and literally (I

usually don't climax). Having the woman's body

has seldom been as good as imagining her body.

For many people, wonderful though sex can be,

it can become dull quickly. My girlfriend, a

(young, beautiful, blond) marathon runner,

summed up this conundrum with this priceless

statement to a married friend of ours, about sex

with her ex-husband (and undoubtedly me


"Sex for me is like running a marathon. I dread it

happening, enjoy it when I'm in it, and never

want to do it again after it's over."

I, and, as my girlfriend's statement indicates,

others, struggle with where to draw these lines.

Drawing these lines is the ambitious work of the

(American) painter John Currin. Calvin Tomkins

writes about Currin and his angst in the same issue

of The New Yorker as does Gopnik on Sarkozy-Bruni.

For some time now, Currin has used pornographic

images taken from Internet sites as the subject matter

for his paintings. He does not seem to know clearly

why he does this. He says that he was motivated by

the furor of Muslim reaction to the Danish cartoons

of Mohammad last year, of the shock of the Western

world's reaction to that reaction, but particularly by

The New York Times refusal to reprint the cartoons

and its defense of Muslim defensiveness. So using

pornographic images as subjects for his painting

became an act of defiance. The reader is not alone

if he fails to see the exact connection. Tomkins, a

Currin admirer, writes,

"When I asked how [the cartoon controversy]

tied into his making pornographic paintings,

Currin talked about low birth rates in Europe,

and people having sex without having babies,

and pornography as a kind of elegy to liberal

culture, at which point I lost the thread."

I don't get the sense that this is yet another shallow

artist attempting profundity where there is none, of

muddying the waters to make them look deep. Currin

is struggling to understand what he does and what

motivates him. He's unclear because drawing the lines

between art and pornography is so difficult, and

because the difficulty has to do with his attitudes

toward sex.

Currin experiences the guilt over the women in his

pornographic paintings and other equally prosaic

emotions. He has painted his wife's face into other

traditional portraiture. Tomkins, for one, seems eager

to see Rachel in some porno paintings with her "wide-

set hazel eyes, pearly skin, heart-shaped face...long

bare legs." Easy for Tomkins to say about someone

else's wife, but Currin won't do it. "At one point,

I thought of using Rachel's face there, but I decided

against it. The humiliation of the narrative is not

something I want to put her face into." Like one

who enjoys viewing porn, Currin feels guilty about

the women, but also embarrassment at his own

pleasure, "I'll keep myself as the only person

humiliated by this painting."

Currin experiences the difficulties in drawing lines

in every way. He is mesmerized by Woman:

"He sees women as different beings, some kind

of embodiment of creativity, of life and beauty,

all these strange emotions," says Rachel. "The

male-female issue is a constant battle for John

and me." Rachel has never experienced the

unnerving sensation of seeing a beautiful girl

or woman, and being stopped in one's tracks.

It's a guy thing, Rachel you wouldn't understand.

It is not only a constant battle between Currin

and his wife, it's a constant battle within Currin.

That is what he is trying to work out in his art.

Like many modern women, Rachel Feinstein asked

John Currin out on a date first. Like many modern

men in that position, Currin refused. "He was sort of

taken aback." For Currin, this disconcerting reversal

of traditional male-female roles reoccurred when they

finally did go out.

"I went to see him in his studio first. He had placed

two chairs so we could look at his paintings, but I

turned mine around so it was facing his. 'I'm not

interested in the paintings,' I said, 'I'm interested

in you.' " So how to think of Woman, or women,

if you're a guy today? Currin won't paint his

wife's face into one of his porno paintings, but

maybe his wife wants him to, but won't say

because she feels guilty.

The couple struggle over whether to hang one of

his porno paintings in their apartment. They have

two young boys. "What's that?," their three-year old

asked. "That's a vagina," said Rachel. "Ewww," said


Currin is mortified at what his parents reaction will

be to the paintings. "Is it really bad?," Currin's mother

asked Rachel. When told the painting showed pene-

tration Currin's mother responded, "Oh, good grief."

Both mother and father attended the Gagosian

gallery's opening of their son's work. Tomkins

writes, "Anita steered a quick course around the

room, avoiding the worst examples. Jim headed

for the gallery's terrace..."

The commonness of these feelings do not

render common Currin's attempt to deal

with them. Commonness is another word

for universal and Currin is struggling with

that universal, and if that is not a worthy

goal for an artist then nothing is. This is

Public Occurrences.