Deep-fried American flag exhibit sparks censorship

By The Associated Press
11.20.06

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — An art exhibit featuring deep-fried American flags, complete with peanut oil and black pepper, has been removed by a museum director in this military-friendly town.

Art student William Gentry said his piece, "The Fat Is in the Fire," was a commentary on obesity in America. "I deep-fried the flag because I'm concerned about America and about America's health," Gentry said.

Ned Crouch, the Customs House Museum's executive director, took down the artwork on Nov. 15, less than 18 hours after it went up in this community next to Fort Campbell.

"It's about what the community values," Crouch said. "I'm representing 99% of our membership — educators, doctors, lawyers, military families."

Crouch was quoted in The Tennessean as saying: "Over half my funding is public funding. … I don't want to rock a boat that's hard to keep floating. It's not worth jeopardizing for an exhibit."

He also said the timing of the piece could cause "incendiary reactions."

"Never in the history of the country has the flag been more hated or more loved," Crouch said.

"I feel extremely censored," Gentry told the newspaper.

Treatment of the American flag is an ongoing and passionate debate in the United States.

Flag-burning at political protests is a guaranteed way to start scuffles and fistfights, and often to be arrested by local police. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled in 1989 in Texas v. Johnson that flag-burning is a constitutionally protected form of political protest.

Politicians periodically attempt to rally support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban flag-burning, but have always fallen short in their efforts.

The Customs House exhibit featured three U.S. flags imprinted with phrases such as "Poor people are obese because they eat poorly" and more than 40 smaller flags fried in peanut oil, egg batter, flour and black pepper.

Clarksville resident and Navy veteran Bill Larson said the museum should not restrict the free speech of an artist based on public response.

"The museum is obligated to the citizens of the community to present art, and it totally failed in that regard," Larson said.

Gentry, who had to publicly display his work for a senior project at Austin Peay State University, said he hoped people would get past the flag imagery and address the health issue.

"I hope they are upset, but I hope they don't miss the point," he said.