As rock and roll bands go, Glitter Dick’s pretty apolitical. It's all about sleaze, dirty licks and pleasure. But when the band's flyer was banned by UNM, vocalist Kendal Killjoy was shocked.
Granted, the flyer was borderline pornographic. But that's the thing about pornography: It's hard to define. What makes something art, erotica or smut? Judging work on aesthetic and artistic “merit” couldn't be a more relative or fallible premise. Bad taste isn't quantifiable.
The hubbub about the flyer stemmed from a letter that UNM Student Michael Hernandez wrote to the Daily Lobo. The band had re-appropriated Tom of Finland's art work—highly caricatured, beefy, homoerotic studs—and Hernandez wrote that the image caused him to lose his appetite. He likened his experience seeing it to sexual harassment.
When KRQE broadcast coverage of the flyer ban, they censored the phallic portion of the drawing. I expected that. But I was surprised to see the word “Dick” in the band's moniker blurred out as well. I wonder how Dick Knipfing felt about that. The delineation of vulgarity is so vague.
UNM Communications Director Dianne Anderson says the administration's decision was based on a sexual harassment grievance lodged by one vocal student and doesn’t signal a shift in UNM policy. UNM LGBTQ Resource Center Director Alma Rosa Silva-Bañuelos says she approached the president's office after hearing about the controversy. Homophobic comments made in response to the letter on the Daily Lobo website affect the LGBTQ community, she says.
The administration has promised to consult with the center when they're called upon to make a judgment about images depicting homosexual identity. For Silva-Bañuelos, that's progress. She says the issue has opened up a stronger line of communication between the president's office and the center.
Killjoy says he’s pleased to hear that the controversy made a positive impact on communication between the LGBTQ community and the administration but still feels that some of the wording used to describe the flyer is questionable. On KRQE, Anderson stated that the flyer was “tasteless,” wording she says came directly from UNM administration. Anderson also says the university’s position is based on a complaint made by a student about an advertisement for an off-campus event.
Based on the meaning of the word “tasteless,” the administration was either describing the flyer as lacking flavor (which is unlikely) or lacking aesthetic judgment regarding appropriate behavior. As the art depicted homosexuality, any suggestion of inappropriate behavior is troublesome.
The right to free expression is only tested when unpopular words or imagery come into play. As a former and future UNM student, the most offensive displays I've personally seen on campus were 10-foot-tall images of aborted fetuses and aggressive, Old Testament-style preachers. Anderson says those forms of free speech differ from the flyer in that the individuals and groups applied for and received a permit, and warning signs about offensive material were placed in the entrances to the areas where they were displayed.
After Glitter Dick's flyer was removed, the band created a new poster that didn't mention their album release party. Instead of a promotion, it was a protest. The new poster featured Tom of Finland's art, along with that of Robert Mapplethorpe, Diane Arbus, Michelangelo, Alice Neel and Pablo Picasso. Copies around campus were taken down as well, but Anderson says the administration had nothing to do with the removal.
In Hernandez' letter, he stated that “the University should require all promotional materials to get approved first and bear some kind of official stamp stating that they have been approved or else they can be taken down. Until they do, I guess it’s up to us to take down offensive fliers ourselves.” Whether homosexual identities and lifestyles can be depicted in authentic (rather than sanctimoniously sanitized) ways on campus is still a concern. Can those depictions withstand the watch-dogging of turned-off students? This incident certainly raises questions about the definitions of public spaces and safe spaces.