Jay Leno didn’t hide his feelings. On Leno‘s Tonight Show Thursday, the comedian took a moment away from his usual routine to call Mayor Rudolph Guiliani a “fascist” for creating a decency committee on art in New York City. He likened Guiliani’s efforts to Adolph Hitler’s similar campaign to remove “degenerate art” from German museums in the early years of the Third Reich.
An anti-bias group, the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, has demanded an apology from Leno. “I think it’s terrible,” Chairman William Fugazy told the Associated Press. “To compare him to a fascist, I think, is a disgrace.” The group will be writing several letters to NBC’s Tonight Show, urging Leno to apologize.
Leno joins a group of artists, academics, free speech advocates and politicians in airing their grievances over Guiliani’s decision last week to form a panel to advise museums receiving public funding on decency standards for art. Guiliani made his announcement after a Renee Cox painting, one that depicts Jesus as a nude black woman entitled “Yo Mama’s Last Supper,” created controversy at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
The determined mayor tried a similar action last year by stopping funding when the same museum exhibited a collection of work called “Sensation”–including an image of the Virgin Mary covered in elephant dung–but lost in court. In fact, throughout his two terms, Guiliani has lost 20 out of 21 First Amendment cases, and advocates are appalled he is trying it again.
The artist Cox said at a news conference Thursday at the New York Civil Liberties Union, “I’m just the conduit. … The real issue is … if this can happen in New York, the cultural capital of the world, it sends a signal to the rest of the country. That’s my biggest fear.”
Guiliani struck out against the media, saying they were creating the fears over his Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission by calling it a “decency panel.” “You literally have intimidated people from doing this who wanted to do it because they’re too afraid of what you’re going to write about them,” he told the Associated Press.
Still, several factions will be opposing the committee. Actor William Baldwin, president of the Creative Coalition, a nonprofit educational organization that deals with arts and censorship issues, said in a statement that “decency commissions throughout history have existed only in dictatorships, whether in Spain during the Inquisition, in Germany during the Nazi regime (or) in the Soviet Union.”