over the map. It touched on all thenobvious questions and many thatnweren’t so obvious. It included thenopinion of a local pediatric specialistnthat it is dangerous to, make childrenn”the focus of sexual attention or interest,”n(“Not for a moment,” he wrote,n”not as entertainment; not as art”),nand the opinion of others who said thatnany sexual interest in Robert Mapplethorpe’snphotographs of exposed childrennis in the mind of the beholder, notnthe photographer/artist. The debatenincluded complaints about the hypocrisynof corporate executives whose selfpromotionalnsupport for the .arts suddenlynbecomes conditional on theirnpersonal artistic preferences, and complaintsnabout the arrogance of an artsncommunity that interprets as “financialnblackmail” any limits to, or conditionsnon, corporate generosity. The view wasnexpressed that if Robert Mapplethorpenhad used animals or women instead ofnmen as the subjects of his sadomasochisticnpictures, some free expressionnadvocates would instantly be on thenother side, raising outraged questionsnabout the limits of free expression. Andnthat view was met with the argumentnthat all such what-ifs are irrelevantndiversions, entirely beside the point.nThe debate gave each side the opportunitynto ask its most important question,nwhich happened to be the samenquestion: where do we draw the line?nThose opposed to closing the exhibitnasked it this way: if we allow thesenpictures to be censored today, what willnbe censored tomorrow? Those in favornof closing the exhibit wanted to know: ifnwe allow these pictures to be displayednas art today, what will be displayed as artntomorrow? Rounding things out were anfew stubborn citizens who would not bendistracted by future implications, insistingnthat the issue was these pictures innthis community at this moment.nSome Cincinnatians were painfullynambivalent about the whole business,nnot wanting the obscene/challengingnphotographs shown; but not wantingnthem seized by the law either. And onenor two found it very important that ifnan exhibit they disapproved of werenshut down, they would be denied thenopportunity to stay away of their ownnvolition. (If you ban it, I can’t boycottnit — I loved that one.) And one fellowneven took the time to state his right asnan American and a Cincinnatian to ben48/CHRONICLESn”apathetic” about the entire affair, apparentlynoblivious to the fact that apatheticnpeople don’t write letters to theneditor.nThe debate was, then, an explorationnof ideas, values, responsibilities,nand attitudes, one that did not getnhopelessly tangled up in political rhetoric,nin large part because it took placenin a convenient, if cowardly, politicalnleadership vacuum.nThe third factor responsible for Cincinnati’sncivility in the midst of controversynwas the city’s intrinsic socialnconservatism. Conservative can be anrash-causing word in Cincinnati, and ifnyou say it in a certain tone of voice, citynspokesmen will start getting all blotchy,nas they wave surveys of HamiltonnCounty voting patterns (in the nationalnmainstream) and explain the politicalnmakeup of the city council (prettyneven-steven). So let’s spare them thatnordeal and define the term. Conservativenin Cincinnati means: moderate,ncautious, family-oriented, and tradition-bound.nIt does not mean: reactionary,nbigoted, intolerant, or ignorant.nSo again: Cincinnati’s intrinsicnsocial conservatism was responsible fornits civility in the face of controversy. Ofncourse, Cincinnati’s intrinsic socialnconservatism was also responsible fornthe controversy in the first place. Butnunless you believe that communitynconflict over the definition of art is innitself repressive or dangerous, the factnof the conflict will mean less than thencharacter and content of the ensuingndebate.nWhich brings us back to out-oftowners,nsome of whom did indeednobject to the very fact of Cincinnati’snconflict over the definition of art. Priornto the Mapplethorpe opening, thenCincinnati Enquirer reported thatnHoward Read, director of photographynfor the Robert Miller Gallery in NewnYork City, was heading here to viewnthe exhibit. Read went most NewnYorkers one better — he formed hisnnegative opinion of Cincinnati beforenhis arrival. The Cincinnati controversyn”seems incredibly provincial” he saidnfrom New York. “There’s just unbelievablenright-wing conservatismnthere.” Well, we love you too, Mr.nRead — and watch out for the cowflopnwhen you get off the plane.nHoward Read’s complaints aboutnprovincialism speak volumes about thennnart world’s elitist contempt for its ownnpatrons or potential patrons. Its attitudenis that the general public, for whichnexhibits like the Mapplethorpe shownsupposedly exist, is obliged to providentax support for something it is toonignorant to understand and thereforenwithout license to judge. And whennthe public — the great unwashed, thatnvery tiresome and intrusive collectionnof pinheads and philistines — respondsnangrily to that attitude by saying, “Younwant freedom? Then foot the billnyourself Until then, we’re art critics,”nspokesmen for the arts establishmentn, fall back on some wordy version of then”no one’s forcing you to go see thenstufF’ argument. If it were that simple,nthe Howard Reads of the world couldndispense with their principles and simplynship all art to Hartford and Berkeley,nsince no one is “forcing” them tonendure the provincialism of Cincinnati.nIt is beyond me how supposedlynintelligent artists — a whole “community”nof them — can ignore a basic factnof life in this country, one that everybodynelse accepts as self-evident: spendnAmericans’ money, and they’ll stickntheir nose in your business.nBut those opposed to the Mapplethorpenexhibit ignored something too:ntell Americans they aren’t or shouldn’tnbe free to say, see, read, or listen tonsomething, and they’ll make it a matternof principle to prove you wrong. Thusnwe had in Cincinnati an exhibit ofnobscene art (put the quotation marksnwhere you will) that was viewed by anrecord number of people, many ofnwhom had no interest in either art ornobscenity, some of whom had reservationsnabout public funding for any art,nmuch less obscene art, and most ofnwhom didn’t like the idea of being toldnwhat they were and were not allowednto see. It was a fascinating thing tonwatch, and I still can’t decide whethernmy feeling about those people is admirationnthat they had the energy tonmatch their convictions, or bewildermentnthat they took such pains tonexperience something that held noninherent interest for them, somethingnmany of them pronounced “disgusting.”nThe ironies didn’t stop there. In anmove that was both admirable (consideringnthe actual content of the exhibit)nand bizarre (considering the supposedncontent of the exhibit), the CAC de-n