Proliferating Panic: Regulating Representations of Sex and Gender during the Culture Wars

Cristyn Davies


During the culture wars in the United States surveillance of representations of the American citizen reached a particular frenzy. This article explores the moral panic that has accompanied attempts by the New Right to shape and define the American citizen as heterosexual, monogamous, white, and a believer in middle-class family values. Davies focuses on the work of performance artists Karen Finley and Holly Hughes whose work challenges hegemonic discourses of gender and sexuality. They were two of those artists branded by the media as the ‘NEA Four’, practitioners whose work was considered indecent and consequently de-funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. The article imagines performance art as a queer time and space; that is, not only does performance art contest normative structures of traditional theatrical performance, so too does it challenge understandings of normative subjects, and the relation of the arts to structures of power.


culture wars; panic; arts funding; New Right

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