County grand jury (charges that will stillnbe unresolved when the exhibitncloses on schedule seven weeks later).n6) The local debate, still restrained,nintensifies; the national Hick Townnstories increase; the Washington Postneditorializes that what’s going on innCincinnati, while superficially “amusing,”nactually “isn’t fijnny at all.”n7) Neither the “police raid” on thenarts center nor the indictment against itnis universally applauded by Cincinnatians,na fact that prompts city andncounty officials to do their version ofnThe Three Stooges Play Polihcs: Younprosecute the case. No, you prosecutenit.n8) Cincinnati breaks out in its everybody-thinks-we’re-rubesnrash (defensive),neven as it continues to strugglenwith the issues before it (earnest). Thenmedia picks up on the defensivenessnand ignores the earnestness. ThenHick Town stories continue; thenrash spreads. Even Mike Royko is heardnfrom. The legal action against thenCAC and its director has made “Cincinnatinlook like a big rube town, whichnI never thought it was,” says Royko.n”It’s always struck me as being a medium-sizednrube town.” (For me, this is anlet down. I expected better from Royko—nwhich is to say, I expected worse.)nIf your source of informadon onnMapplethorpe in Cincinnati was thennational media, you saw reported ornsuggested just about everything on thenabove list, with the glaring excepdon ofnnumber four; the quality and characternof the local debate, a debate that wasnnot only an essendal part of the storynbut a remarkable and heartening occurrencenin itself, especially in a timenwhen so much public discourse is annexercise in rancor and rhetorical excess.nWhat’s more, the media decided onntheir Hick Town slant before the hicksnthemselves had been heard from, andnstayed with that slant even after thenappearance of abundant evidence thatnmight have challenged it. Why did theyndo that? One possibility is the constraintsnof daily journalism. So muchnnews, so littie dme! Examining assumptionsntakes effort, therefore stereotypesnhave their uses. The only othernpossibility I can think of is that thennational journalistic establishment actuallynbelieves that any city that wouldnquestion the public display of sadomasochisticnand homoerotic photographs isnby definition a hick town.nFor their efforts in debating difficult,ncomplex issues with a measure of dignitynand good will, Cincinnatians sawnthemselves trashed on a national scale.nThe New York Times labeled Cincinnadn”[possibly] the most sexually restrictivenbig city in the country.” On itsnface that statement is false. Sex is notnrestricted in Cincinnati, no matternwhat the New York Times says; in fact,npeople have sex here all the time.nWhat is restricted is the availability ofnpeep shows, nudie bars, massage parlors,nand X-rated movies. The Timesnalso accused Cincinnad, in so manynwords, of hypocrisy for being locatednright across the river from Newport,nKentucky, which makes available tonCincinnatians the strip joints their ownncity forbids — the Times’ point beingnthat some Cincinnadans actually crossnthe river for that reason. (The articlenwas a doubly cheap shot, in that Newport,nits burlesque clubs notwithstanding,nhas made great efforts in recentnyears to rid its streets and its image ofnsleaze.)nFinally, the New York Times reported,nmore than once, that the Mapplethorpenshow had traveled to cides fromnHartford to Berkeley “without incident,”nwhile Cincinnati had “nearlyngone into convulsions” over the exhibit.nPlease. This simply isn’t a convulsion-pronencity. The only event herenthat ever came close to being convulsivenwas Pete Rose’s banishment fromnbaseball, and, for better or for worse,nthe photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe,nstranger in paradise, are nonmatch for that. What the Mapplethorpenexhibit produced in Cincinnatinwas a community debate (and a goodnone), accompanied by a communitynrash.nThe exhibit also prompted publicndemonstrations outside the CAC, thenlargest of which was estimated at onenthousand by the New York Times, fivenhundred by the local papers. The demonstradonsnwent like this. The anticensorshipnforces, made up mostly ofnstudents, did what college kids (andnthose who want to act like college kids)nsometimes are inclined to do: theynpulled out the rhetorical stops by yellingn”Fascists!” at the police and carryingnsigns with warnings about Hitler.nThe anti-pornography group did itsnown name-dropping in the form ofnnnplacards reading “God Is Against PornographynAnd So Are We.” As publicndemonstrations go in this country,nCincinnad’s were both typical in characternand ho-hum in overall effect —nhardly “convulsive.”nIs it any wonder Cincinnatians arendefensive? I can’t think of another citynin the country in which outside observersnconfuse the absence of sleaze withnthe absence of sex. This may be thenonly city in America that gets stigmatizednfor having too little commercialnvice. Name one other city that isnexpected to answer not only for what itnwon’t permit, but for what its neighboringncides will. Name one other citynthat’s supposed to explain itself fornbeing dissimilar in attitude to Berkeley.nBefore it was all over, I expected to seena New York Times headline announcingn”Impossible to Get Seven CoursenMeal in Cincinnati at 3 a.m.”nSince no one else bothered (andnbefore I break out in a rash myself), it’snworth taking a look at Cincinnati’sndebate over the Mapplethorpe exhibitnand asking why that debate was soncivilized. I can think of three reasons.nFirst, the concepts of “communitynstandards” and “community values”naren’t worth arguing about unless younactually have a community. And Cincinnatinis a community. That is, thenthings Cincinnatians agree on arenmore binding than the things theyndisagree on are divisive. Thus therenwas during the Mapplethorpe controversynthe awareness that even on emotionalnissues, especially on emotionalnissues, it is a matter of civic as well asnintellectual responsibility to think twicenbefore deciding that one’s neighborsnare “the enemy.”nSecond, local politicians prettynmuch kept silent. This was in part anreflecdon of the nature of the beast —nmost politicians don’t risk voluntarynplunges into sticky issues — and in partnan example of the subdued character ofnCincinnati politics. In any case, thensilence was, in this instance, a help.nWith public opinion split and most citynleaders lacking the nerve or the inclinationnto try exploiting the controversynfor political gain, Cincinnatians hadnthe issue pretty much to themselves,nand their discussions were not limitednto or by politics.nThe published dialogue sdmulatednby the Mapplethorpe exhibit ran allnOCTOBER 1990/47n