Prude comes before a fall

A rueful admission: I badly need a crash course in modern morality. I simply can’t keep up with its finer points on my own.

St Peter of Exeter

The other day the head mistress (called ‘principal’ in colonial English) of a Florida school was sacked for exposing 12-year-old pupils (‘students’ in colonial) to pornography. If you gasp and feel short of breath, let me put you at rest.

The offensive material didn’t show what in some quarters is called full-pen intercourse. It didn’t exhibit a graphic depiction of condom use. Nor did it even instruct the pupils in the delights of sex change and sodomy.

In fact, if Governor DeSantis has his way, Florida pupils will soon be deprived of such invaluable education. Hence they’ll find themselves at a disadvantage compared with the tots in other states, indeed also in Britain, who come to grips with all that stuff at kindergarten level. By the time they are 12, they are ready to put the theory into practice and live miserable ever after.

No, what led to the dismissal of the head mistress was a complaint from some parents that their children’s morals were being corrupted by a class in Renaissance art. Specifically because it was illustrated with reproductions of Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.

The article I’ve read about this doesn’t specify the cultural and educational credentials of the offended parents. So I’ll venture a confident guess that they are the kind of savages who shouldn’t be allowed to procreate in the first place.

Not knowing the difference between pornography and sublime art should be a capital offence, punishable by banishment from civilised society (I’d suggest the death penalty, but that might be seen as a tad too extreme). But what about the school board that acted on the complaint so decisively?

One would expect those sitting on it to have obtained higher education and perhaps visited a museum or two. Why, they even might have seen that expanded Disney World called Europe with its Uffizi, Louvre and Prado. If not, surely they’ve ventured as far north as Washington with its National Gallery or even New York with its Met.

In that case, they must have seen hundreds of depictions of female and male nudes that have for centuries been ranked among the greatest achievements of the human spirit. I don’t know if those educators have also seen at least some pornography, but that’s the way to bet.

So do they know the difference? If they do, it was their professional duty to tell those savage parents to shut up, go home and read a few books (one assumes they know how to read). If they don’t, then the only board they should be allowed on is the surfing variety.

Coincidentally, just the other day I was in Exeter, Penelope’s home town. The combined efforts of the Luftwaffe and, especially, the municipal council have turned this ancient city (the Romans called it Isca Dumnoniorum) into an eyesore. Yet its glorious medieval cathedral has survived.

Thus we could admire yet again its magnificent vaulted ceiling, the longest in the world, and smile at the famous bas-relief showing a woman with two left feet (oops! – I wonder if the sculptor ever lived down that blooper). And, more to the point, standing high above the west portal is a full frontal sculpture of St Peter, in all his proud nudity.

I am not sure when that sculpture was put up but, whenever it was, it clearly didn’t offend the bishop, priests and parishioners of the time. Neither has it done so since, although Penelope insists the statue wasn’t there when she was a child.

Well, it is there now, and the sensibilities of the Christians who work and worship in the cathedral aren’t so brittle that anyone is offended. Yet Barney Bishop III (he can’t be royalty, can he?), the chairman of that school board, sacked the head mistress for exposing the pupils to works of art infinitely greater than that pedestrian Exeter statue.

Apparently, last year the head mistress warned parents that their little ones would be shown that offensive material. Yet this year she has neglected to do so, which, according to King Bishop III is an “egregious mistake”.

“Parents,” he explained, “are entitled to know anytime their child is being taught a controversial topic and picture”. Right. So Michelangelo and Botticelli are controversial, I get it.

However, since DeSantis’s law hasn’t yet come into effect, that same school has to teach those same pupils the nuances of condom use, homosexuality and free choice among an infinite number of sexes. Nothing controversial about that, as far as Bishop III is concerned.

This worthy educator can be accused of any number of sins, but inconsistency isn’t one of them. Banning Michelangelo is in no conflict with teaching kindergarten pupils how to pull a condom on a weewee. Both serve the same purpose: churning out barbarians who combine pagan worship of graphic, amoral sex with abhorrence of Western culture and its greatest achievements.

Treating human sexuality in the matter-of-fact way of a farmer with his livestock numbs children’s moral sense, while banning David and Venus has the same effect on their aesthetic discernment. Job done. Education has delivered its desired product: a deracinated pagan, but one without the Hellenic taste in high art.

In my fondest dreams Bishop III will suffer the fate of Charles I and Louis XVI. In our grim reality, the newly unemployed head mistress is sending out her CVs. Perhaps she should retrain as a masseuse with extras or a pole dancer, to get in touch with modern morality.

3 thoughts on “Prude comes before a fall”

  1. That school board might need a visit to the Vatican.
    They can learn how the Church has been changeable in its opinions about art, especially about the back wall of the Sistine Chapel. The controversy over Michelangelo’s nudity in the Last Judgement and especially his depiction of his critic Minos as judge of the underworld with the ears of a donkey and a snake biting his genitals.
    Subsequent Popes hired artists to cover-up all the naughty bits with fig leaves and loincloths. So, when the Sistine Chapel underwent that controversial restoration in the 1980s, much of the cover-ups were removed revealing again the less ‘shameful’ taste of that era.

  2. In Victorian England table legs were carved in the shape of a human leg. Some persons thought this to be so scandalous they then developed a furniture fashion to cover the table legs with a curtain. You knew what was underneath the curtain but just could not see it.

  3. Sir, what is or has been the Church’s stance on nudity in great art, if I may ask? Has the Church ever commissioned a nude?

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