Karen Finley's *very* NSFW "Tales of Taboo"


54 Responses to “Karen Finley's *very* NSFW "Tales of Taboo"”

  1. Ugly Canuck says:

    Hey rindan

    Any art involved in the design of government buildings aka architecture? No?

    • LILemming says:

      > Any art involved in the design of government buildings
      > aka architecture? No?

      < looks at 26 Federal Plaza > In the 50s, apparently not. The less said about “The Tilted Arc” the better too.


      > Getting a “day job” isn’t easy for artists. . . it’s
      > a shitty time to be trying to leverage a B.A. in
      > painting into any kind of job that supports an
      > artist. . . I’m a better writer when I’m not
      > exhausted from working all day; time is a scarce
      > resource for the artist with a day job.

      and I’m a better husband, cyclist and kayaker when I’m not “exhausted from working all day”. However I’d soon also be hungrier and homelessier. 8) No matter how passionate, or good, you are about your writing nobody owes you a living at it. Take comfort that this was true for most of the great artists of history and thus your Venn diagram overlaps theirs.

      Government art will be the art of the Least Common Denominator.

  2. Anonymous says:

    “They are pissed because they had their money confiscated and given to someone to do something asinine, ugly, or offensive and had no say in the matter.”

    Are we talking about Iraq now?

  3. Memphis Thom says:

    I remember dancing to the Sinead remix at GDI’s in Memphis, Tennessee in the mid-late 80′s. It was a clusterf**k period, with what seemed like everyone dying and the NEA Mapplethorpe/Finley/Hughes controversy just was such a part of all this 1st Bush era. This is the period I came out in – and the art at the time seemed very important, those pre-internet days…

  4. princeminski says:

    #36: Gotta like anybody who starts a comment with “Bah!” As for the rest of the posts, same old unresolvable political poo.

  5. Ugly Canuck says:

    Or shall we discriminate further between the useless arts like cooking and gardening and the useful arts like naval architecture and the design of weaponry and fortifications in order to determine which the public purse ought to support… or is the very term “art” henceforth to be reserved to refer only to those fields of human endeavor which you do not understand or otherwise despise?

  6. ken says:

    While I can see how some would react adversely to this song, one thing that always struck me about Karen Finley is her pathos and humanity. (No, really!) I’ve seen her perform on a number of occasions and always left the theater quite moved. On record it’s the shock value that jumps out but live there are many more levels to appreciate.

    As johnlancia noted above, she did indeed go on to produce something of “value” (or at least something that was more acceptable/commercially successful), having had a successful off-Broadway run a few years ago.

    As far as the government funding art, well, it’s better than the church. I’ve quite a few friends who are artist and it always seemed to me to be the most scum-sucking profession–more than almost anything else, success is based on who you know, what parties you go to, what friendships you cultivate, etc. In comparison, even investment banking seems delightfully straightforward (sell yr soul, work a million hours, fuck over who you can and you’ll have success).

  7. Ugly Canuck says:

    And is not the copyright legal regime itself nothing but a publicly-funded subsidy for the arts?

    • Rindan says:

      Ugly Canuk, I think copyright law as written is a crime against humanity and artists. If that is what it looks like when the state gets its hands on art, I’ll pretty happily stand by my “keep the state out of art” statement.

      Or shall we discriminate further between the useless arts like cooking and gardening and the useful arts like naval architecture and the design of weaponry and fortifications in order to determine which the public purse ought to support… or is the very term “art” henceforth to be reserved to refer only to those fields of human endeavor which you do not understand or otherwise despise?

      If the government decides it needs battleship, building, or a catering staff, so long as it goes through the normal boring democratic processes, I am all for it. We do have a state, it needs stuff, it takes tax money to pay for those things, and hopefully does more good than harm. If the state needs “art” in that it needs a building designed, some pretty gardens around the capital, or a nice path through a park, I am all for it.

      What I don’t want, and why I am happy that the NEA is gimped, is a profession not involved with the functioning of the state to be able to tax every other poor bastard who has to earn a living in the economy. There are a lot of good reasons to not want this. Even if you think it is “fair” to have a profession involuntarily take its wages from the rest of the working population, it is bad for speech and expression. As soon as you have bureaucrats determining what is and is not art by who gets state funding, you get people who want to start defining decency standards and what is and is not art.

      Fuck defining art through either popular vote or bureaucratic decree. Art should be whatever you damn well want to call art. If you want to make a living off of art, be that through writing a masterful novel, painting a beautiful picture, or putting shit into a jar, the “making a living” piece is up to you.

  8. Jinglefritz says:

    Who says romance is dead?

  9. jeligula says:

    @ Ugly Canuck. The Nazi potentate that you mentioned “reached for his checkbook” because he loved what he bought. And he bought a lot, a great deal of it acquired through government profiteers. But it was his individual taste that drove him to acquire things of beauty while participating in horrors that wouldn’t be seen again until the NEA forced them on people. Hey – if an artist can get a stipend to produce work, then fine. More power, etc. But when public stages are rented with taxpayer money for the express purpose to abuse people, the line has just been crossed. I stand by my original arguement and wasn’t talking about your government in any case. Perhaps it would make you happy if someone volunteered to be cut to pieces and reassembled in an artistic way. And you would probably enjoy watching it, too. Neo con, indeed. If you are not talented enough to make a living off it, it’s time to find another line of work. Don’t make your neighbor pay for your lack of talent, please. It’s impolite under any government.

  10. Baldhead says:

    I support funding for the arts because if we left it up to corporate funding we’d just get Britney Spears and Transformers. I also think that song was pure crap but at the same time has value. Extreme art justifiably has it’s detractors but without it the mainstream wouldn’t move forward because when you look at an artist’s work, it’s informed by another artist, who borrowed ideas from a third, etc. usually getting wierder and more esoteric as we go. Kool Kieth isn’t overly huge with the public at large, but probably every rapper with an album out has a copy of Dr. Octagon….

  11. Anonymous says:

    @ Rindan – You sound like my faculty advisor from art school (SMFA in Boston). You forgot to mention that in #3 that you still get to keep making art. It ain’t much but things like; graphic/web design, commercial/wedding/glamourshots photography, welding/auto repair and anything that keeps your hand in, if even by just the fingertips, of making “your” art is worth it. Only the very very rare ones make it in their own time.

    He also said to keep $10K in a suitcase, ready to go at all times.

  12. Buckets McGaughey says:

    Ooh look, this is sampled in “Theme From S-Express”. You learn something new every day.

  13. woid says:

    Now that all the hipsters have relocated to Brooklyn & Queens, how about retiring the ancient “bridge & tunnel” insult?

    The gang of shitheads who destroyed our economy and are working on wrecking our whole country would never let their precious selves enter an “outer borough” if it weren’t for the fact that they need to get to JFK or the Hamptons to visit their extra money.

  14. ethicalcannibal says:

    Didn’t she do the Sinead O’Conner remix? I got a hold of that in the 80s, and used it as a litmus test for folks when I met them. I still have a casette of it somewhere.

  15. Ugly Canuck says:

    Misquote cubed.



    US government spending of taxpayers monies on the arts is the highest of any government ever in history.

    The arts of war, that is….

  16. I less than three mermaids says:

    Perhaps it’s because I work in San Francisco, but I fail to see (hear?) the NSFW part.

  17. kmoser says:

    into consideration general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public

    For every person who finds a given work of art reprehensible, there’s somebody out there who finds it awesome. It shouldn’t be government’s job to arbitrate or legislate morality.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I’m looking forward to a Peaches cover of this

  19. blueelm says:

    Oh Karen Finley. Damn you. To this day I find myself chanting sushi sushi sushi sometimes.

    Standards and decency indeed. I wish I could make boring an indecency some times.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I would really like to work in a place that this would be safe for work.

  21. KyleTexas says:

    This song is a cover of an old tune by….. The Aristocrats!

  22. Anonymous says:

    As a European I’d sternly warn against any significant government support of art. It has completely petrified art here, because
    it creates a closed system where the artists only refer to bureaucrats, and completely loose their incentive to bring art to the general public.

  23. thatbob says:

    This song made me giggle. Was it really sponsored by the NEA? Because IMO that makes it automatically Safe For Work. Because I’m a patriot.

    I also want to thank the Canadian system for curing my insomnia.

  24. adamnvillani says:

    For every person who finds a given work of art reprehensible, there’s somebody out there who finds it awesome.

    I’m not so sure if the ratio is 1:1 for a song like this.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I suspect the best way for government to “support the arts” without establishing an officially approved culture is to adopt laws and policies that ensure creators get a fair share of the proceeds of their creations — mandatory reversion of copyright after a set period of time, minimum percentages of revenue, extended income averaging, and the like. Most burgeoning artists do not think like lawyers, agents, or businessmen and are easily rooked and exploited by middlemen and conglomerate buyers. There’s nothing wrong with taking this into account in our laws, as we do, for example, with merchant mariners.

    One thing I do have a specific beef with is how “1% for the arts” policies have been applied. Instead of beautiful buildings with inherently creative and unique architectural features, we instead get bland boxes with an expensive sculpture or mosaic added as an afterthought, like lipstick on a pig. I’m not so sure government should not have the power to mandate that all new structures embody at least some inherent creativity, charm, uniqueness, or novelty. Allowing everyone to build to lowest aesthetic cost has given us some pretty ugly, generic cities and neighborhoods.

    Finally, while Karen Finley’s song may be provocative, controversial, offensive, or shocking to some — FCC censors, broadcast network policy enforcers, Republican politicians, right-wing Supreme Court Justices, parochial school headmasters, fundamentalist preachers, and the like — I just found it boring and not particularly creative. Even if you take the questionable route of analyzing it for “social value,” it doesn’t, for example, point out America’s dual standard for sex and crude language, on the one hand, and violence, substantive inhumanity, and commercial puffery on the other. If you compare Finley’s song with “Fuck The Pain Away” (by Peaches, featured on the “Lost In Translation” soundtrack), it’s apparent how trite and empty it is. It didn’t deserve funding regardless of what standards were applied.

  26. tsm_sf says:

    There’s something very nostalgic about Finley’s art, for me at least.

    Something so very “pre-internet” about trying to shock people out of their complacency… one picture of a gaping anus instantly disarmed a million hours of performance art.

    • blueelm says:

      It’s all about the venue. There’s a reason Finley was considered a fine artist/performance artist as opposed to say G.G. Allin.

  27. johnlancia says:

    Bah! Everyone should be happy that their government is spending money on crap like the posted song. I personally find the song talentless and hard to listen too, but what better use would you find for the cash she got for it? Wiretapping? Waging illegal wars? Staging coups to bring down democratically elected governments? I’d take a thousand crap songs over these options any day. Comparatively, to complain about the few measley millions that the U.S. is throwing at talentless artists, rather then the trillions being spent on destabilizing the world and subjugating its own citizens is ludicrous.
    Besides, anyone with any knowledge of artists and the artistic process knows that you have to shovel your way through, and pay for, a lot of crap artists and art before you can find a gem. Or even take a rough stone and polish it into a gem. You never know, maybe with enough encouragement, Mz. Finley will get over the whole offending people to get noticed thing and really produce something of value someday. The only way to find out is to pay her to not get a job selling shoes or waiting tables. She might not ever do so, but artists have to be encouraged lest our society becomes artless.

    • blueelm says:

      The thing is artists need people like Finley. The more the edges get trimmed the more narrow and controlled art becomes. What’s next, FDA art approval? Art that is only sponsored by corporations and thus solely advertisement? Propaganda? Like her or not keeping people like her in the art community helps ensure greater freedom for other artists.

  28. Redboy says:

    classic! tales of taboo was always a perfect mix with Anne Clark’s ‘Wallies’ as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJmiNdnPjlA

  29. Ernunnos says:

    “Wiener?” In the age of internet porn, Beavis and Buttheadisms just sound kind of sweet and endearing.

  30. Mephy says:

    To each their own I guess, but in addition to being NSFW this song is basically trash. It’s simply indecency for indecency sake. The audio equivalent of two girls one cup.

    If that is art, then everything is art.

  31. adamnvillani says:

    If you compare Finley’s song with “Fuck The Pain Away” … it’s apparent how trite and empty it is.

    Also, musically, “Fuck the Pain Away” rocks and this does not.

  32. Anonymous says:

    speaking of the jump in the river remix does anyone know where i might be able to find a mp3 of it. i’ve been searching like mad. thanks.

  33. thatbob says:

    And if you compare Finley’s song with “Little Deuce Coup” (by The Beach Boys, featured on their LP of the same name), it’s apparent how little it expresses the pleasures of hot rodding or drag racing.

  34. Enormo says:

    “I want your wiener in my mouth.”

    I can do without the poo poo talk.

  35. jeligula says:

    The NEA was a washout from the very beginning. Government subsidized art? Give me a break. If the art is not marketable, there is absolutely no reason for the tax payers to be supporting it. Case in point: the NEA funded a show that would have made GG Allin proud. An HIV positive man cut himself on stage and then soaked a paper towel with his blood and they floated the towel over the audience on a track. There was a stampede for the doors and people were injured. Anybody’s first amendment rights end where people are injured by it, and the NEA only encouraged this. Good riddance to a waste of money.

  36. Ugly Canuck says:

    Hey Jeligula

    Here’s a break for you:


    A whole lotta breaks:


    All subsidized by my government.
    So you don’t have to pay a dime to enjoy them….you philistine neo-con neo-barbarian, why not send my government a check?

  37. aquathug says:


    “Even if you think it is “fair” to have a profession involuntarily take its wages from the rest of the working population”

    It’s amazing that you randroids whine and whine over the small, pretty, and kind things our government does (WIC, Welfare programs, Art Subsidies) which comprise about 1% of the federal budget, while the fact that they are robbing you fucking blind to support secret wars, illegal wiretaps, corporate welfare, and the largest transfer of public funds into private hand in the history of forever gets barley a mention.

  38. Anonymous says:

    I’m an old San Franciscan who was a club kid back when Karen Finley was doing her thing. I had a lot of friends who didn’t live here visit on a weekly basis (and they still do) and I never insulted them with the bridge and tunnel moniker.

  39. ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive says:

    I’m very familiar with the work of Norman McLaren for the National Film Board of Canada. If the NEA stuck to funding artists of the calibre of Norman McLaren, there wouldn’t be any complaints. I listened to a couple of minutes of the Karen Finley track above, and even though I am a full time supporter of the arts, I have to admit, if I had given her money to make that, I’d probably want my money back too.

    There are many many valuable and deserving artists and arts foundations out there. Stuff like this makes it hard for everyone.

  40. Ugly Canuck says:

    After all, did not the great right-winger Field-Marshall Hermann Goering not say once:
    “When someone mentions culture, I reach for my checkbook”?

    Perhaps I am mis-quoting….

  41. Lt DirtyFreq says:

    This is Lords of Acid

  42. Ugly Canuck says:

    Aah, I see.
    It’s not government funding of the arts which is bad: just incompetent government funding for the arts.

  43. whisper dog says:

    I’d love to hear Christopher Walken recite these lyrics.

  44. Halloween Jack says:

    Not that daring, even for the times. For that, try “Jesus Entering from the Rear” by The Feederz.

  45. Rindan says:

    Eh, I don’t see the NEA being a poor gimped agency as a bad thing simply for the reason that it helps keep the state out of art. If you involve the state with art, that means you are taking money from the general population, and giving it to someone to go “do art” with it. The pro-life dude gets pissed about the fetuses display, the feminist is angry about the images of women suffering violence, and everyone is pissed that someone got money to literally fill a jar full of shit. Why are they pissed? They are pissed because they had their money confiscated and given to someone to do something asinine, ugly, or offensive and had no say in the matter So, they demand accountability. Now you have fucking bureaucrats of the state determining what is and is not art, which is as much of a jar of shit as a literal jar of shit is.

    The best way to short circuit this cycle is to tell artists that if they want to do art, they have three choices.

    1) Do art that the masses like and will pay for.
    2) Do art that a few rich bastards will like and pay for.
    3) Get a day job.

    Eh, sucks for the artists, but in the end art is better off by keeping state bureaucrats out and the general public not frothing with rage every time a bored and lazy news media goes out and finds some stupid asinine piece of art sure to get the public pissed that they had their paycheck docked to pay for it.

    • ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive says:

      Your three requirements are fine, but it’s important to add one more thing…

      4) Individuals who support the arts should support it with material support, not just lip service.

      If that was happening, we wouldn’t need government funding for the arts.

    • blueelm says:

      Rindan that is sheer win. Art is all about who’s buying it. I like what I do. High art is about status, power, control, etc. I used to want to work in order to have a dialogue with people, to inspire and challenge individuals, to enter a conversation with society. Stupidly I thought art did this. Ah, naive youth.

      But this is giving me flashbacks from grad school so I gotta just shake it off.

    • dw_funk says:

      Doesn’t it benefit society when governments subsidize culture? I agree with the ASIFA poster; there’s a lot of lip service but not a whole lot of money for artists.

      Getting a “day job” isn’t easy for artists. For one thing, most artists I know (I’m using the term broadly) came up in an academic system that trained them to be artists; it’s a shitty time to be trying to leverage a B.A. in painting into any kind of job that supports an artist. Speaking for myself, I’m a better writer when I’m not exhausted from working all day; time is a scarce resource for the artist with a day job.

      As for the possibility that government money might be used in the creation of things like “Tales of Taboo” or the AIDS performance piece mentioned above; well, an important function of art is its ability to shock, to make statements that foster dialogue. If it’s pissing you off, then it’s working. I fully support governments that fund a creative dialogue.

      Also, it’s not like the NEA is giving out some huge percentage of GDP.

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