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Monday, February 24, 2003

Degenerate Art

Why didn’t the artists speak out last night on the Grammys? I don’t know. I imagine it’s for many of the same reasons that many liberals in the US haven’t been speaking out --- fear of being called unpatriotic, the sense that 9/11 is sacred (and Iraq, however inexplicably, is attached to it), knowledge that the war is inevitable and a genuine feeling of ambivalence about the goals if not the motivations of those who are waging it. It is also true that the Grammy’s were in New York City; there are those who feel that it is hallowed ground.

And, one cannot look at this without noting that the corporation that owns CBS also owns MTV and VH1, and that the large corporate entities that created many of these “artists” have a huge stake in the success of George W. Bush’s administration. Self-interest is our civic religion these days even if it's subliminal.

But, I’d like to address another aspect of this issue. From what I’ve read today, it is taken as an article of faith from those on the right that artists are ignorant, ill-informed and so completely out of the mainstream that they should be treated as children and be seen and not heard. I have read at least 5 different comments today, and received several e-mails, saying that awards shows are properly places for the little tykes to clap their pudgy hands and giggle with glee when they get their nice awards, but they should leave the serious issues to the really important people (like warbloggers, presumably.)

(I have to say that calling artists “stupid” in the face of a president who cannot string two words together coherently is so chillingly obtuse that I’m afraid that a few of these people may be beyond reach. But, that’s another post….)

This view shows a complete lack of understanding of the history, function and purpose of art. So, let me try to clear up a few of the misconceptions that seem to be plaguing the right (who, as commenter Cheryl adroitly pointed out, revere the only entertainer to ever ascend to the presidency, Ronnie Reagan.)

There are two reasons why artists speak out on politics and why they tend to be overwhelmingly liberal. First, the practical reason is that they have an audience. It has been asked repeatedly why an awards show should serve as a platform for political sentiment. Well….


If artists/citizens feel strongly about a political issue they may also feel they have an obligation to use their access to large numbers of people to make that point. Those of us who blog or are actually active in politics from either side of the debate should understand this better than anyone. If you care, you try to persuade. And anybody who wants to can participate. It’s called democracy.

Which brings us to the second reason. Artists are overwhelmingly liberal because conservatives are always trying to tell them what they can and cannot say, write, paint, or make. There is nothing more precious to an artist than free speech and history is filled with examples of governments cracking down on art and speech they determine to be a threat to the nation. Even here in the US. And, certainly there. It is only logical that civil liberties would be of prime importance to artists, particularly those who use their art as a means of political expression and it should not surprise anyone that the more conservative and authoritarian governments are always the ones that are trying to curb them. Artists know this and usually support liberal politics as a result.

It is just reverse elitism to assume that the artistic community is any more stupid than any other group of people in this country. Some are, some aren’t. This smug snobbishness is quite revealing, particularly coming from the group that allows the likes of Jerry Falwell to speak for them on political issue ranging from taxes to war strategy.

I think it shows they’re scared. Smart Republicans understand something else about this phenomenon and that is that certain artists bring with them a powerful image that can be extremely useful if applied correctly --- Charlton Heston as Moses for instance --- Reagan in a cowboy hat. If the broad artistic community becomes truly engaged in politics, the right will have a problem on their hands. Popular Culture is a sleeping political and public relations giant and when it is awakened it can be a formidable foe. And it is overwhelmingly liberal.

And they know that the likes of Rupert Murdoch will never forego profits for politics. Ever. If the artistic communities make liberalism visible again, and by extension they make their art explicitly or implicitly political and profitable, the Republicans will be in trouble. FoxNews is only entertaining to dittoheads and masochistic Democrats. Everybody else is watching the real liberal media like Murdoch's most successful television show ever --- The Simpsons --- the most subversively liberal TV show in history.

The musicians did a big el-foldo. Let's see if the filmmakers can do a little bit better.