Gustave Courbet's 1886 oil painting of a naked woman's lower half, The Origin of the World, hangs in Paris' Musee d'Orsay. But it is not welcome on the hallowed walls of Facebook. Facebook has abruptly canceled at least three accounts after users posted the painting, and art connoisseurs are fuming.
A Frenchman is suing Facebook because it deleted his account in February after he changed his profile picture to the painting. This cut him off from his 800 friends on the eve of his birthday; he's demanding Facebook immediately reinstate his account and "compensate him in a substantial manner"—he presumably wants that compensation in vagina-painting form.
Dutch artist Frode Steincke also had his Facebook account deleted in February when he posted the bushy masterpiece to his wall. French writer Luc Wouters inveighed against Facebook's censorship at the time: "Facebook wants to impose a form of Sharia law on the Internet by prohibiting the naked female body from being shown in the splendor of its natural beauty."
Do not get between an angry European and his fine art nudes! When Wouters changed his own profile picture to The Origin of the World in solidarity, he, too was axed.
It's tempting to focus on the fact that all these men wanted their Facebook profiles to feature hyperrealistic close-ups of a woman's vagina. But let's not get distracted by a big vagina! The real issue here is the prudish rules on cultural expression that Facebook enforces to protect their most valuable users—Farmville-addicted Midwestern insurance salespeople—from the horrors of the female form. Tasteful sketches of topless women, porn stars' fan pages. All fall before Facebook's Victorian sensibilities.
Everyone should change their picture to The Origin of the World with Mark Zuckerberg's face photoshopped on top right now.
[Image via Musee d'Orsay]