David Lynch's Banned Bovine

ByABC News

Sept. 13, 2000 — -- The streets of New York City must know every depravity on earth, but they won’t ever see David Lynch’s decapitated cow.

You’d think New Yorkers could handle a gruesome statue from one of the country’s darkest directors. After all, folks here still joke about the classic New York Post headline, “Headless Man Found in Topless Bar.”

What danger could Lynch’s topless cow be in this environment? “They told me that I could do anything I liked so long as it wasn’t sexually explicit or X-rated,” Lynch told The Wolf Files. “So I built my cow. I had a great time doing it.”

The fiberglass heifer is quite a sight. Its severed head rests on bloody, gorged-out shoulders. Forks and knives have been stabbed into the rump. And scrawled across the side are the words: “Eat My Fear.”

Lynch’s statue was supposed to take its place on the streets of New York City this summer as part of the “CowParade” — a traveling event that encourages local artists to decorate model cows for public viewing. Similar event have taken place around the country.

But when city officials saw the “Eat My Fear” cud-chewer, they turned into udder cow-ards and banned it from the show. Now, after months in exile at a warehouse in Connecticut, it’s gone on display at the downtown Manhattan Alleged Gallery — ironically close to the meatpacking district, where many a bovine has met a bloody fate.

“It took some time. But I’m happy folks got a chance to see what they missed,” says Lynch, who naturally would have preferred an outdoor, public viewing.

Moo-ving Art?This summer, New York City streets were graced with some 500 cows, including those rendered as modern art (the Picowsso on Sixth Avenue), a sexy waitress (the “Mooter” at Hooters restaurant) and historical figures (Lady Cowdiva, Vincent Van Cough, and King Tutancowmon).

[Click on the slideshow to your right for a tour of New York’s herd.]

What was Lynch trying to say? “I never interpret my art,” the director says. “I let the audience do that.” One must assume that to be his pre-programmed answer after giving the world such eerie flicks as Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man, and Eraserhead.

But city Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern compared the “Eat My Fear” cow to the work of Charles Manson and suggested that Lynch should “stick to his day job, making movies.”

“It took a while for my pupils to dilate” after viewing the cow, Stern told the New Yorker magazine. “The first thing I could see was the forks and knives stuck in its butt. Then I saw the back, all torn open, and the cow’s head, rammed into its midsection, and the blood and entrails and gore.

“These cows are meant to be PG,” Stern said. “Would you want a swastika cow, or a KKK cow, or a cow performing an obscene act?”

One must wonder what the CowParade organizers expected when they asked Lynch, a notorious shock artist, to contribute. The director did win the Palme d’Or at Cannes for Wild at Heart. But he isn’t known for his manners. This is a man who reportedly keeps a dead rat in his refrigerator for inspiration.

‘Cowtowing’ to Censors

The censorship of art and entertainment has been a pretty hot topic in New York these days. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani threatened to shut down the Brooklyn Museum of Art for displaying a painting of the Virgin Mary decorated with elephant dung.

Maybe Lynch’s beheaded bovine is just a reflection of a mayor who will no longer allow his home to be known as “Sin City.” Under the Giuliani administration, nude dancers have had to face all sorts of restrictions, and the number of adult clubs have dwindled. Billy’s Topless and other adult establishments, once the staple of midtown Manhattan, have been forced to change their names. It’s now “Billy’s Stopless,” because the once bare-chested ladies can’t take it all off.

At least it’s fair: no topless gals, no topless cows.

A Bovine Intern

Lynch says he has to smile, but it’s a sobering experience. “I worked four days and a night on this project,” he said. “It shows you what happens when one person makes a decision for the rest of us.”

Some could see it as a setback for the director, who hit a high point in popularity with his Twin Peaks TV show in the early 1990s. He fell into a slump after the movie version flopped.

His last film, The Straight Story, tells the tale of an elderly man who drives a ’66 John Deere lawnmower from Iowa to Wisconsin to make amends with his long-estranged brother. It was well received by critics but didn’t get much notice at theaters.

Now, Lynch’s latest effort, Mulholland Drive, has hit some production snags. But he says, “Things are working out and it is moving forward.”

Lynch couldn’t make it to the opening of his “Eat My Fear” cow. But he says the controversial cow will soon be auctioned off for charity, so he doesn’t think the four days he spent on the project wasted.

If it’s a bittersweet ending, Lynch can take heart that there were at least two other banned bovines. City officials turned away one cow dressed as a Hasidic Jew and another named “Monicow Lewinsky.” Buck Wolf is a producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is a weekly feature of the U.S. Section. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.