Deviant art at the State Fair

While it is probably not the first time that artwork has been suppressed from the annual New York State Fair Photography Exhibition for annoying someone’s delicate sensibilities, it’s probably the first time that a piece of award-winning artwork has been yanked during the Fair for non-obscene content.

Fair boss saw smoke, and put out photo

That’s right, it wasn’t being censored because of the blow-up doll: it was being censored because of the cigarette. I have only one thing to say about Dan O’Hara’s censorship of artist work at the New York State Fair: What will our fine new Syracuse arts community have to say about this? (Nothing?)

Honestly, I’ve never heard of anything so ludicrous in all my years of Fairgoing. It’s also ironic. You’d think it would be the image of the blow-up doll (in all its gape-mouthed glory) that would have prompted some conservative Republican prude to scream for it to be taken down. Nope, it was Spitzer’s own appointee, Dan O’Hara, Democrat of Baldwinsville, who decided that artistic expression can also be sacrificed to his narrow agenda of banning smoking from a Fairgrounds that has sat next to industrial smokestacks for over 100 years. (Although, it could possibly be that O’Hara is just a well-meaning fellow who really can’t tell the difference between artistic expression and “advertising.” I’m trying to be charitable here.)

But honestly, on second thought, it’s the contempt for art itself that really “shines” through. Agenda over human expression. (The artist apparently wasn’t even contacted!)

O’Hara wants to stamp out smoking in our lifetimes, even if means stamping out elderly Fairgoers who are courteous about their smoking and are highly unlikely to quit at this point in their lives (that’s coming soon, if not next year), and he thinks that banning the sale of tobacco products at this year’s Fair was a good start. Banning smoking in the Grandstand would also be also a start. Fine: I can certainly understand where people trapped in assigned seats would want to not be afflicted by secondhand smoke.

However, if you think O’Hara wants to stop there, think again. I especially loved his disingenuous remark about how banning the sale of tobacco on the Fairgrounds didn’t seem to stop people from smoking, so maybe they’ll try something else next year. Uh yeah, Dan. Like this all isn’t part of a program. Uh-huh.

I guess censoring artwork and photography is the next logical step in the program.

Sorry, this bugs me. I am a nonsmoker, but I paint as a hobby and do other crafty things – albeit, nothing so socially dangerous as blow-up dolls with ciggies – and have often wondered if I might enter something into the Fair someday. Maybe I should stop wondering: if what I produce doesn’t fit O’Hara’s vision of what’s a safe and seemly image for New Yorkers to gaze upon, I’d probably suffer the same fate as Ms. Chalone.

Updated: A few letters in the Post-Standard this morning about this, including this one, which includes an astonishing quote from O’Hara (who, it turns out, personally took the photograph off the wall).

I saw the director’s response on the Syracuse NBC Channel 3 News. When asked about the artist contract clause that states, “Under no circumstances, will any winners be allowed to be removed from exhibition before the end of the fair,” he replied, “I am the director and I can over rule policy.”

This person is not experienced enough to properly handle the power he was entrusted with.

11 thoughts on “Deviant art at the State Fair

  1. JS

    Sounds like he is also “the decider!”

    Yeah, his measures belie a small mind and even smaller thinking. He must be a patronage guy, because I can’t believe he earned the position on merit.

    That said, I’m not sure I spelled “belie” right there, so who knows ;)

  2. Ellen

    Yeah, I think I’ll call him The Decider from now on… :-)

    Whew, glad I got that off my chest and fulfilled my annual minimum requirement for excoriating a local official with a dose of blog-righteousness. (You have to do that at least once a year, or else they take your blogging license away.)

  3. Audrey Silk

    How I didn’t hear about this until yesterday I’ll never know. My organization sponsored the lawsuit that challenged O’Hara’s ban on the SALE (no, not smoking, as you all know that was allowed) of tobacco. We begged and pleaded with people to assist because it goes — as you now find out — beyond “smoking.” The anti-smoking campaign is less about smoking and more about these infringements and we scream that, yes!, the slippery slope DOES exist. And here it is — touching art and expression.

    The judge dismissed the case on August 23rd on the arguments the tobacco vendor (plaintiff) was able to advance to fit his particular “injury.” We included free speech and was given a nod but not enough to be granted protected commercial speech.

    I’d love to see him challenged anew in relation to this occurence. Anyway, the on-line article by the Syracuse Post-Standard seems to be suffering from incompletion. It ends mid-sentence. I was able to come up with more of it from elsewhere. But I don’t think I got all of it.

    When you wrote: “I especially loved his disingenuous remark about how banning the sale of tobacco on the Fairgrounds didn’t seem to stop people from smoking,” was that from the same article?? I’m dying to know and to see the rest. Please email it to me at if you have it.

    And thank you for covering this!!

    Audrey Silk
    Founder, NYC Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment
    Brooklyn, NY

  4. Ellen

    Audrey, that comment from O’Hara was from a different story (I should have referenced it). I’ll find it and post a link if I can.

    I am glad to live in a world less full of secondhand smoke. That didn’t just happen by itself. But I do think the effort to eradicate smoking is getting heavy-handed. My dad is a senior citizen, smokes like a chimney, tried to quit several times in life (once for 6 years). He’s 68 now and he’s never going to stop smoking. Sorry folks, he’s just not ever going to. Ever. He’s on the down side of his life. He’s coasting to the finish line. Enjoying what’s left of his retirement. Yet he’s been a good citizen, has always tried to be a responsible smoker, very careful about where he lights up and when, he’s sorry now that he smoked inside the house when we were kids, has no problem with going outside to smoke, etc. And believe me, I understand what secondhand smoke means to one’s health: when I was no longer living in the same house with him, it was magical how I never seemed to catch cold so much any more. So the health effects of secondhand smoke are real, and that’s just a mild example. I have no problem with eradicating indoor smoking in public places. Or protecting children from secondhand smoke, even banning open-air smoking in some park areas.

    But that’s not good enough for the anti-smoking N***’s. Nothing seems EVER good enough for them. No matter how willingly people like my dad comply with new rules, I really believe these people won’t be happy until elderly smokers have been excluded from every public or even non-public space. These people will not be happy unless everyone is behaving exactly the way they want, even in the privacy of their own homes and cars, and if someone is 68 years old and isn’t going to quit smoking, well, f*** these citizens – cast them off – they’re worthless elements. No State Fair for you!

    I mean, if we really don’t want to pay for an old smoker’s health bills, why don’t we just require them to wear “STUBBORN, ANTISOCIAL OLD SMOKER-DO NOT TREAT” bracelets? It couldn’t be any more demeaning than the way elderly smokers will probably be treated in a few years.

    So I confess – I have a big, big problem with this. Yeah, it’s personal. I’m special pleading for my dad and his nasty habit and going against the Greater Good of Society’s Purity. Perhaps I, too, am a menace to society. So clap one of those “DO NOT TREAT” bracelets on me as well, I guess. (Since anyone who fails to react to smoking without the requisite amount of horror, in Dan O’Hara’s world, is Persona Non Grata?)

    These people are well-intentioned, but are growing quite arrogant. My dad worked hard during his life; he contributed to society like a good citizen; he has the right to enjoy his old age whatever way he wants, including the State Fair if he so chooses, and if he’s not blowing smoke in anyone’s face, or in an enclosed area, I don’t see why he should be treated like a castoff. He’s 68 years old, for Christ’s sake, and he’s worked hard his whole life. Give him a little dignity in his old age. There are other ways to work this out than this zero tolerance b.s.

    Cause you know wh 文字化ã

  5. Audrey Silk

    Ellen, it’s possible that I’ve come across that particular quote in question. I think this is it: “O’Hara says he’s not sure if those measures did enough to discourage smoking.” – WSTM TV

    I could quibble with you on the issue of “line-drawing” and the ramifications of not drawing it sooner based on personal levels of acceptance/comfort, but past saying that I won’t. Because regardless, you demonstrate in your own words that you ultimately stand on the side of personal freedom and strongly protest the kind of government intrusion we’re witnessing. It’s terrific. Thank you for adding your voice to it. And give your dad my best.

    Also, your blog was instrumental in starting the process of receiving additional coverage of our situation by the Syracuse Post-Standard. The reporter has entered a blog entry for now ( and a full article is expected on Thursday. Credit to the venue you provide is due you.

    Audrey Silk
    Founder, NYC C.L.A.S.H.

  6. Phil

    O’Hara went way too far, trying to manage thought and images and not just behavior. I fully support a smoking ban in public places and its rigorous enforcement. My selfish reaason is so my wife can attend concerts with me without sending her into an asthma attack. Our last Grandstand concert at the Fair (ZZ Top) was ruined by the many inconsiderate bozos lighting up all around us. You can’t refrain from your nasty habit for a freaking hour? What a difference at Saratoga where people in the seats were immediately informed by ushers to put out the smoke or be banished to the yard behind the amphitheatre. I think anti-smoking people can go too far–conditions for employment and smoking in your home and car shouldn’t come under their purview. But the regulation of smoking in the public square is legitimate for three main reasons: the documented dangers of second hand smoke, the ability of a very small number of smokers to poison an entire area and the increasingly belligerent attitude about “smoker’s rights.” Smokers are also increasingly obnoxious, just as the anti’s have been characterized in these comments. They scream about discrimination. Well, discrimination is legal unless specifically spelled out as illegal in the constitution, state or local laws. I’ve got news for the smoker’s rights advocates–nothing in the constitution protects their behavior from sanction, but the government is constitutionally required to defend the health and welfare of the populace. All that being said, it should be about consideration. Smokers should not smoke in public places and anti’s should stop fussing about private smoking. I just want to see a concert without my wife having to leave after 20 minutes, hacking and whezzing, using her inhaler and having to grope for the door and some fresh air.

  7. Ellen

    I hope it’s clear from my comments, but I think regulating smoking is fair game, too. I just wish people would think a little harder about the slippery slope. I mean, what’s a “public place”? Anywhere that’s outside? On a street corner? In your back yard? In your car? (yes, believe it or not there are area employers that are contemplating such a restriction!)

    As for whether or not they can withhold for an hour… well, no, many smokers are addicted to nicotine; I’m sure my father is.

    Smokers are on the down side of a social trend. 50 years ago they were on an up side. C’est la vie, but I question whether “la vie” has to be so harsh to an old guy who wants to smoke and is pretty courteous about it. (then again, how do you “grandfather” in? what’s the age cutoff?)

    Smokers don’t have any “rights,” any more than non-smokers have “rights” – one only has “rights” because someone screams loud enough on this or that side. I think the writing is on the wall about smoking, but I still think elderly people (in general) should get some thoughtful consideration, all the same.

  8. Phil

    Your right to throw a punch ends at the tip of my nose, anything further and I’ll see you in court. Slippery slopes can be negotiated, if, as I said before consideration is taken into account. NY State has already determined that anything inside a public building is non-smoking territory. Your home and your car are different. However, companies have every right to regulate behavior on THEIR property (hence no smoking in their parking lots, even if you are in your car). I wouldn’t regulate public smoking on the street, but am OK with building owners and government trying to move the smokers from huddling right outside entrances by having no smoking zones. Rights are not just shouting matches between organized interest groups. Non-smokers do have rights, the government can violate smokers rights in order to protect the health and welfare of the citizenry. There is no longer any credible argument that second-hand smoke is not dangerous. The problems occur when private and public spheres collide and the protection of non-smokers’ rights trump the individual right to indulge in smoking.

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