“The Silence of the Artistic Lambs”

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All true, when you see the border post ahead of you down the road, or when the customs inspector demands “Your papers, mein herr.” But what if instead the border comes to you? Not explicitly, but in a kind of demographic equivalent to the overlaid area codes of a North American metropolis. Amsterdam is the city of legalized pot and prostitution and a gay hedonist paradise. But it’s also a Muslim city, overlaid on the pothead playground. At what point does the nice Dutch gay couple realize they’ve crossed a border? That, without getting their passports stamped or changing their currency, they’re now strangers in a strange land. That’s something Greene would have been fascinated to write about.
So why don’t his successors? Well, for one answer we can turn to a recent panel convened at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London to discuss the topic “Is All Modern Art Left Wing?” The formal discussion was dreary and predictable but things turned livelier when it was opened to the floor, and the question of double standards was raised: “Courageous” artists seemed happy to mock Christianity but curiously reluctant to hurl equivalent jibes at Islam. Grayson Perry, the Turner Prize-winning transvestite artist who looks very fetching in his little Disney-princess frocks, reveals that he self-censors when it comes to Muslims because “I don’t want my throat cut.”

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