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Art is dangerous

Learning to tolerate the intolerable


It seemed harmless enough, but sometimes I am regrettably open-minded about what is not harmless. In this particular case, I'm talking about my second movie choice at Sundance this year, which was called Zoo, a documentary about the notorious Washington state horse-sex incident of 2004, during which a man died after -- I swear this is true -- being impaled by the penis of an Arabian stallion.

First, not only do I consider sex with horses harmful, but I would have considered it impossible if not for this documentary. I mean, a horse cock in a human anus? I wouldn't have believed it could fit, but astoundingly, it did. It's all evidenced in the scandal that first hit the media in 2004, when a stable manager at a respected horse farm in Enumclaw had been caught pimping out the barnyard for sex parties while his boss was away. The police busted the bestiality ring when one of the "Happy Horsemen" died from internal bleeding caused by a perforated colon.

So, of course I went to see the documentary. How could I not? The Sundance buzz insisted, I swear to God, that the film was "tastefully done," "beautifully shot" and a real "piece of art." So, I thought it would be harmless enough to go see it and then use it as fodder for ridicule, because I, for one, have absolutely no tolerance for this kind of tolerance. I think people ought to look at a man getting hosed by a horse and call it what it is -- a really big, really sick, really stupid mistake, and I don't care how artful the camera angle you put on this particular subject, it's still a movie about an idiot with a horse dick up his ass. "I aestheticized the sleaze right out of it," claimed the director, Robinson Devor, which clearly had to be the biggest load of horseshit to be dumped into the eye sockets of innocent viewers in the history of all things artistic, right?

So I watched it and I wish I could say right here that I was unswayed from my initial impression of the subject, even though the cinematography was stunning and the music was ethereal and the lighting was blahbity blahbity whatever-the-fucking-blah that lighting is in art films, because of course the cinematography, music and lighting were all those things. Washington state is a beautiful place, as are forests in the early morning fog and the rolling green pastures surrounding the silhouette of a weathered barn and the quaint streetscape of a sleepy Northwestern town -- in fact, Zoo would have been a lovely movie if you were deaf and didn't hear the voices of animal fuckers trying to justify their fetish, and if you went temporarily blind for those two mere scenes that were visually unbearable. But that said, it's still a movie about an idiot who got ass-hammered to death by a horse. A turd served on a pretty plate is still a turd, right?

But the truth is, you can't leave a movie like that without thinking about what you just saw. You can't help but wander around dazed a little, bumping into things, thinking to yourself, "Jesus God, someone just presented an 'elegant, eerily lyrical' (this very phrase was used to describe this movie by Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times) depiction of a man whose favorite pastime was to impale himself on the penis of his horse." I do not understand it and I do not want to ever understand it, but there was a second there where my brain went and considered the fact that a serious artist had laboriously created this complicated piece, asking me to try to understand it. And I stopped for that second and realized I was, almost regrettably, admiring his effort.

And then there I felt it -- goddamnit -- a crack in the bony exoskeleton I like to keep around my psyche. It was like the tightened anus of my core convictions had been stretched a tiny, tiny bit -- I mean, a miniscule bit -- not expanded enough to accept the entire giant-horse cock of unconditional acceptance of everything, but just enough to almost imperceptibly weaken my intolerance of that type of tolerance.

This is why art is dangerous. Because who wants that? Who wants to understand people and the mistakes they made and the "lyrical" impetus behind their dirty little secrets? If we did that, everyone would be accepting everything. People would be unashamedly getting hosed by horses as opposed to shamefully doing it now, and who's to say that once the shame is removed, so might also be removed the odd attraction to performing the act itself? Oh, my God, where is my brain going? It's almost like I can't help it. It's almost like I can't help but think that this man who liked to fuck horses -- this man who had a responsible job and a son and an amiable relationship with his ex-wife ... Jesus God, who cares who he was? He fucked horses, for chrissakes -- it's almost like I can't help but think this man who died on the end of a horse's dick didn't do so in vain.

Fuck, fuck, fuck. Stop. Stop. But I can't. It's there. It's in me. I wouldn't have believed it could fit, but astoundingly, it did.

Hollis Gillespie is an award-winning humor columnist, NPR commentator, "Tonight Show" guest and author of two acclaimed memoirs, Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood and Confessions of a Recovering Slut and Other Love Stories. To register for her writing workshops, The Shocking Real-Life Writing Seminar, visit

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