On June 15, 1998, the US Supreme Court declared that the National Endowment for the Arts had the right to take "into consideration general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public" when determining whether artists are worthy of NEA funding. That landmark decision was the key moment in a case filed by four artists -- Karen Finley, Tim Miller, John Fleck, and Holly Hughes -- who lost their NEA funding because their work was deemed to be indecent. The artists sued the NEA for breach of promise and violation of their First Amendment rights, took it to the top, and lost. Eventually, the artists did get their grants reinstated, but the culture wars continued to rage and the NEA was essentially eviscerated. I was first exposed to Finley in 1986 through her infamous dance track, "Tales of Taboo," heard in this YouTube clip. The DJ at the alternative/punk/gay/freak club where I hung out would play it to either clear the dance floor, or fill it, depending on how many "bridge-and-tunnel" types had made the scene that night. NSFW. Listen with headphones. Trust me.
"NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS, ET AL., PETITIONERS v. KAREN FINLEY, ET AL."
David Pescovitz is Boing Boing's co-editor/managing partner. He's also a research director at Institute for the Future. On Instagram, he's @pesco.
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