Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Leftists and The Arts - They Still Have No Clue

Ran across this article on MSNBC today:

Why Artists Are Rallying Against Bush

The striking thing to me is how utterly clueless the perspective is. It meshes very well with my own recent emersion in the lefty arts culture of Minneapolis.

Incidentally, I think the article is written in genuine fashion. It doesn't seem to be attempting partisan spin. But let's examine a few insights into an honest left-leaning mind from the article:'s more important than ever that Americans pay attention to what creative people have to say. Not since the height of the Vietnam War have so many actors, writers, artists, and musicians mobilized politically during an election year...

I have encountered this exact same thing. Unlike the vast majority of Americans who look upon the Vietnam era with distaste, leftist artists have idealized it. To them it was a sort of cultural flowering where the arts community attained a central and important leadership role. Arts communities, being disproportionately vain and inclined to narcissism, view this as the proper natural order of things. To them, artists should not be mere entertainers, but should serve as a kind of demi-priesthood empowered by their close association with Truth.

Now in fairness, I think this is indeed the role of great art in society. But we shouldn't mistake the art for the artist. Most artists never create great art. Most struggle their entire careers in the attempt but fail.

There is an humorous saying I remember seeing on a poster on the door of a philosophy professor in college. It went something like this: "If society esteems philosophers because philosophy is a lofty pursuit, and dismisses plumbers because plumbing is a lowly pursuit, it will have neither good philosophy nor good plumbing. Neither its thoughts nor pipes will hold water."

In a nutshell, that's the problem with a view esteeming artists, and thinking we need to hear a lot from them regarding politics right now. Just because they are artists doesn't mean they know more than you or I about politics. They simply have learned some nifty ways of expressing themselves. But we shouldn't confuse their mastery of the medium with the significance of their message.

Set aside the partisan anti-Bush rhetoric, and it's clear that they're mainly worried about the erosion of civil liberties and threats to freedom of speech they believe are occurring because of media concentration and the war on terrorism -- especially under the guise of the Patriot Act.

Again, this squares perfectly with my own observations among my lefty theatre friends. This isn't hyped up or partisan spin. They truly and deeply feel this way.

Interesting though, it's not a deep and studied thing. It's a viceral reaction. Ask them which clause in the Patriot Act most disturbs them, and in the vast majority of cases, you'll meet a blank stare. They don't know what's in the Patriot Act. They just know that's it was intended to strengthen the powers of law enforcement agencies.

If you think about it, this makes a certain sense. Artists play in feelings and emotions far more often than the rest of us. And I can't think of anyone right or left who was thrilled by the measures we took post 9-11. The only difference was between those who thought they were a necessary evil, and those who thought they were unnecessary.

And to me, this goes to my observation that the arts community is almost entirely populated by people living in the mindset of September 10th. To those inclined to that world view, Bush's increase of law enforcement and national security does indeed seem menacing. The problem is that such a world view is a naive and dangerous fantasy. We are indeed engaged in a war, even if that war is being waged for the most part far away.

Edmund White, who's now head of Princeton University's creative writing program, was the only artist I contacted who expressed concern about the relative uniformity of political views in the American artistic community. "In France, there are many respected writers on the right," he noted when I tracked him down by e-mail. "In America or England, it would almost be impossible to be a writer on the right."

This is another weird little point that characterizes the arts community very well. The evidence of their own intolerance of different points of view could not be any clearer. And they don't see it at all. In fact, they tend to take this evidence as some sort of proof of how smart and elite they are.

It truly doesn't occur to them that the reason there is so little poltical diversity in their own profession is that they are active discriminators who oppress dissenting political opinion far more vigorously than almost any other group.

This also illustrates why conservative groups scare the bejeebers out of them. They assume their own bigotry and intolerance to be less than that of most other groups. Therefore they can only assume a conservative group in power must oppress and discriminate with wild abandon. Their fear of conservatives is partially formed by their own political bigotry and intolerance.

Why should anyone -- especially conservative Republicans -- care what these people have to say? Because their numbers include some of the absolute best and brightest of American culture, people whose novels and paintings your great-grandhildren may be studying decades from now.

This is simply a reiteration of the fallacy we lead off with. Since some great art is bound to come from current artists, we must revere them all, even in their least informed opinions. It's bad advice, and conservatives seem to be sensibly immune to it.

I'd normally end by saying "read the whole thing." But honestly, I can't recommend it in this case. It's a longish piece advocating nonsense, with a few insights into how leftists think about art, conservatives and politics.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

My child, man's greatest ingratitude is his ingratitude toward Me, since he owes Me everything in his life; Stand by Me, and I will help you reach the all-satisfying success of Heaven. -Christ

12:18 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home