Can somebody explain public discourse to John Waters?

In an Ireland so unfamiliar to me that an artist can be interviewed by police for caricaturing a sitting Taoiseach, I suppose I should feel comfort that John Waters is still a humourless contrarian:

“The only amusing thing here is Casby’s deluded belief that he has something to say … His works are crude, unfunny, vindictive, without intrinsic content and wholly lacking in artistic merit.”

Waters seems to be sincerely arguing that because he finds no meaning or merit in what Conor Casby has to say, nor how the artist chooses to express it, that any outrage at his subsequent treatment is misplaced. He could overlook the supposed hurt to Cowen’s family, the disrespect to the office of the Taoiseach and, his most po-faced objection of all, “the breach of security at a national institution”, if Louis Le Brocquy hung a 6’x 4′ of the chief defecating, perhaps?

Casby was not subjected to the deliberate, cynical fear of Garda interview for being a shit artist, for having a shit sense of humour, or for breaching the Pentagonesque security of the National Gallery. He was intimidated, as were employees of Today FM, and I have no doubt, those of RTÉ, for no other reason than he made the Taoiseach look like a tit.

Suggesting that the “affair of the Casby paintings” represents a threat to democracy, Waters opines:

“Intrinsically devoid of intellectual content, they nevertheless cumulatively contribute to a climate in which public discourse is cheapened and debased, rendering it less likely that people of intelligence and sensitivity will participate. What kind of society do we expect such a culture to conceive?”

Well, with Waters guarding the door, admitting only those of intelligence and sensitivity, democracy should have no cause for concern. Is he kidding?

The pliant director general of the nation’s biggest broadcaster is two phone calls from the head of government and not only pulled a story concerning the head of government  in its entirety but orchestrated an apology.

Policemen threatened warrants if journalists did not reveal contact details for a guy who drew a picture.

They actually sent a file to the Director for Public Prosecutions. Democracy should have nothing to fear.

“His response is typical of a public discourse almost fatally degraded by internet auto-eroticism and an obsession with what is called ‘comedy’.”

There is no comedy in the paintings. I don’t think they’re very funny. I don’t even think they’re very good.

The comedy stems from the over-zealous reaction of Government flunkies and the spinelessness of the RTÉ top brass, from red-faced gardaí combing the country for a painter of “dirty” pictures and from the burning shame that any Goverment press officer should be enduring as a one-night story enters its second week. That is funny.

That most of the objections to Casby’s treatment are online adds sauce to Waters’s delusion:

“The internet has reduced public debate to the level of a drunken argument, in which no holds are barred, in which deeply unpleasant people get to voice their ignorant opinions in the ugliest terms, in the name of ‘free speech’.”

In case Waters has forgotten, free speech is only of use if it allows people to say or express things you are vehemently opposed to. It is designed to be ugly.

In what totalitarian nightmare do we justify the censorship of popular debate at any level? Should cultural and political debate be limited to those readers who worship the august organ of John Waters? I think that is what he wants. He decries the demise of public discourse yet thinks anyone who laughs at a Taoiseach on a toilet should just shut up and listen to him and only him – discourse by monologue.

“This episode … continues to be misused by a media increasingly debased in its desire to pursue popular opinion to the gutter and below”

Another Irish artist, on the subject of lying in the gutter (or below) suggested that some of us are looking at the stars.

“All art is quite useless,” Wilde said. Let us hope, in Casby’s case that he was wrong. Let us hope this abuse of State power, inadvertent or not, is remembered at the polls – it may even dethrone Cowen. If nothing else, let us hope that it marks the week when John Waters’s relevance, if ever he had any, evaporated in a cloud of sanctimonious snobbery.