Thursday, October 4, 2012

'Better Watch the Arts'

It was the ‘zinger’ that everyone was talking about today. Mitt Romney’s clearly scripted putdown to moderator Jim Lehrer, “I’m sorry Jim. I’m gonna stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m gonna stop other things. I like PBS, I like Big Bird, I actually like you too…but I am not going to keep spending money on things [we have] to borrow money from China to pay for.” served as a clear reminder that the majority of  the modern Republican Party, and New Conservative Movement, not only doesn't value the arts but finds it, and our artists, totally insignificant.   

If elected Mitt Romney will do everything he can do to gut our government supported art programs. He’s promised to stop funding for PBS, NPR, The National Endowment for the Arts and others while limiting what we can watch in the privacy of our own homes. I am sure there are artists out there who support the likes of Romney…my only question would be why?

Romney’s correlation of Big Bird with PBS, an important organization with such an inspiring and rich legacy, shows his utter disdain for the arts, artists and creative expression. Romney, and many of his constituents, simply doesn’t understand how necessary the arts are to our country’s past, present and future. The idea of giving relatively minor funding to organizations that can ultimately change lives, and offer spiritual healing, when they could be putting more and more cash into an already bloated defense budget, a useless drug war and into their own already stuffed pockets is totally foreign to them.

I don’t usually bring politics into the mix here at Moon in the Gutter but I am angry. I’m angry that so many people are blindly supporting a man looking to shut the lights out on groups that have helped given a voice to so many of our greatest artists…voices that might otherwise had never been heard. I’m angry that so many people are blindly supporting a man who wants to monitor what we can and can’t watch (and would want to take the livelihood away from many of our most daring artists and provocateurs). I’m angry that so many people around me want to live in this white fantasy world that never existed….Mitt Romney’s idea of America isn’t my country and his position on everything from defunding valuable arts programs to upholding ridiculously antiquated anti-obscenity laws are just two of the reasons I feel like a stranger in a strange land these days. After all, Mitt Romney is all but guaranteed to win my state.

President Obama really dropped the ball in last night’s debate and it was disheartening watching him let Romney’s version of the facts run riot. I can only hope the upcoming debates find the President in a more prepared and fighting mood, as I now getting more and more nervous about the outcome of the upcoming election. I’m sure I might lose some readers with this post but frankly I am more concerned about the rights of African Americans, Homosexuals and women that are going to be set back by decades, if Mitt Romney wins, and I am worried about the great works of art, and artists, we won’t discover when he shuts the doors on so many of our most valuable government funded organizations.

So if you are an artist on the fence about voting please don’t be…take a moment on November 6th and cast a vote against Mitt Romney. History has taught us time and time again that we need to particularly beware of political movements and voices that target the arts and the freedom of creative expression. Now more than ever we need to, as John Cale so eloquently put it in his tribute to Rene Magritte, ‘watch the arts’ and watch out for them.

-Jeremy Richey, 2012- 


Glimmung said...

Well said, Jeremy. Keep on keeping on.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thank you very much!

Tony Dayoub said...


Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Tony!

Joel Bocko said...

Enjoyed reading this piece, which was deeply-felt and thought-provoking.

I despise Romney and his party, but mostly for other reasons. I wasn't aware of his anti-obscenity position, but I'll have to look into that online. Another reason to say No to the Party of No.

As for arts funding, it's an interesting topic. On the one hand, I have no desire to rob Sesame Street or Frontline or, indeed the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour (if it's still on) of their very meager slice of the massive state pie (what is it, like a penny or two of the average tax burden?). Furthermore, I think PBS' public value is actually far more educational than artistic, and there's certainly a pretty airtight case for public funding of mass education.

But on a personal note I am ambivalent about the notion that art, as art, should be funded by compulsory public taxation. There are several reasons for this:

One is that I'm not sure anything other than pure survival (a category in which I include health insurance, among other things, one reason I can't vote Republican) and attempts to grant equal opportunity (education) should solicit public funding. I'm struggling with how to phrase this without seeming to dismiss the importance of art. But I also think spirituality and relationships are important too, and don't believe they need government funding (although both receive it, essentially, through tax breaks to churches and legal recognition of marriage, gay or straight, which to my thinking should be replaced by a blanket civil-union law in which anyone who wants to make an arrangement with anyone else, regardless of the nature of their relationship - gay, straight, even unromantic, one partner or multiple - gets the exact same treatment, but of course that will never happen. Anyway, I digress.)

That's a point that's difficult to parse out.

Easier to convey is my sense that the arts themselves, and artists in particular, should not necessarily welcome public funding. There is a tendency, especially in the past 50 years, for artists to cut themselves off from the broader society and form little niches or outposts, usually - despite all the left-wing political talk - in upper-class echelons. This ability can be increase the unfortunate tendency to see art as "elitist" and exacerbate the tendency for artists to form a class apart, with its own sense of reality and incestuous self-referentiality (much like academia, where the crossbreeding is rather strong).

I dunno, even writing this I have my doubts. Wouldn't public funding level the playing field more (since right now most people who can get their movies seen rely on connections or wealth which were rarely earned anymore independently than any government handout)? Wouldn't it create more of a space for experimentation and exploration and so forth? Weren't many European classics funded by the state? Yes, yes, and yes.

And yet...

Joel Bocko said...


Thinking that we may be on the cusp of an internet revolution, in which filmmakers finally realize the tools at their disposal and audiences (ideally) recognize they don't have to beholden to the narrow sliver of experience Hollywood conveys - I want to see this rise naturally, with the sense that the artists who arise from this situation are hard-working members of society, not moochers narcissistically funding their leisure with tax dollars. The latter view would be sure to further alienate the artist from society, something I don't want to see happen.

At any case, it won't, at least not due to public funding, which is practically non-existent in the U.S. and probably won't change anytime soon. The point is more theoretical and abstract than anything else.

Ultimately, the question's only relevance is, I suppose, to each individual. Personally I would hope to support any work I end up doing on my own dime or that raised through my own effort and initiative - or at the very least through the sort of blind luck that anyone who strives has an equal opportunity to stumble into. I guess I wouldn't want to owe my audience anything.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks so much Joel for the valuable and fascinating comments. I greatly appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.

Fiddlin' Bill said...

You are 100% right in your post, and you will most likely gain, not lose, readership. Mr. Romney (and Mr. Ryan) are phillistines in the classic sense of the word. Couple that with raging authoritarianism and you have danger. A lot of Americans, unfortunately, crave authoritarianism. They have, of course, never experienced it.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks so much Bill! I really appreciate you saying that!

night person said...

Well stated, Jeremy. Thank you for using this other voice of yours. This message needs to be heard.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks so much for that...out of my comfort zone with this one and all this feedback is really great.