Taxpayer-Supported Agitprop As Anti-Fascist Talisman
Trump proposes to cut out the National Endowment for the Arts. Personally, I think that’s a bad idea, but boy, could there be a drearier and more predictable left-wing defense of federal arts funding than this one in the NYT by sociologist and visual artist Eve Ewing? Excerpts:
But as Hitler understood, artists play a distinctive role in challenging authoritarianism. Art creates pathways for subversion, for political understanding and solidarity among coalition builders. Art teaches us that lives other than our own have value. Like the proverbial court jester who can openly mock the king in his own court, artists who occupy marginalized social positions can use their art to challenge structures of power in ways that would otherwise be dangerous or impossible.
Hitler! Naturally. More:
In its last round of grants, the NEA gave $10,000 to a music festival in Oregon to commission a dance performance by people in wheelchairs and dance classes for people who use mobility devices. A cultural center in California received $10,000 to host workshops led by Muslim artists, including a hip-hop artist, a comedian and filmmakers. A chorus in Minnesota was granted $10,000 to create a concert highlighting the experiences of LGBTQ youth, to be performed in St. Paul public schools. Each of these grants supports the voices of the very people the current presidential administration has mocked, dismissed and outright harmed. Young people, queer people, immigrants, and minorities have long used art as a means of dismantling the institutions that would silence us first and kill us later, and the NEA is one of the few wide-reaching institutions that support that work.
The federal government is giving arts grants for things like that? Wait, tell me again why you want to cut the NEA out, Mr. President? There was a great New Yorker cartoon years ago showing an artist painting a portrait of a businessman, with the words “FUC YOU” written on the bottom. All it lacked was the K. The artist turned to the businessman with his hand out, and asked for a donation to help him finish the painting.
Why should the government subsidize radicals who want to destroy the institutions of the society that supports them? Dismantle the institutions on your own damn dime, Eve Ewing.
One more excerpt:
We need the arts because they make us full human beings. But we also need the arts as a protective factor against authoritarianism. In saving the arts, we save ourselves from a society where creative production is permissible only insofar as it serves the instruments of power. When the canary in the coal mine goes silent, we should be very afraid — not only because its song was so beautiful, but also because it was the only sign that we still had a chance to see daylight again.
Oh please, enough with the melodrama. You want to know the truth? Nobody really cares. Maybe they should care — I think they should care, but not for the same reasons that Eve Ewing does — but they don’t. Walker Percy nailed in in Lost In The Cosmos:
The writer-artist makes sure that he is in the world and that he is real by taking on the world, usually by political action and, more often than not, revolutionary. Even if one is imprisoned by the state — especially if one is imprisoned — one can be certain of being human. Ghosts can’t be imprisoned. This strategem is more available to European writers, who are taken more seriously than American writers. The secret envy of American writers: Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Despite their most violent attacks on the state and the establishment, nobody pays much attention to American writers, least of all the state. To have taken on the state and defeated it, like Solzhenitsyn, is beyond the wildest dreams of the American writer. Because the state doesn’t care. This indifference leads to ever more frantic attempts to attract attention, like an ignored child, even to the point of depicting President Johnson and Lady Bird plotting the assassination of Kennedy in Barbara Garson’s MacBird!, or President Nixon having sex with Ethel Rosenberg and being buggered by Uncle Same in Times Square in Robert Coover’s The Public Burning.
Still, no one pays attention.
A paradigm of this generally failed reentry option: a lonely “radical” American writer standing outside the White House gate, screaming obscenities about this fascist state, dictatorship, exploitation of minorities, suppression of freedom of speech, and so on and on — al the while being ignored by President, police, and passersby.
There are worse things than the Gulag.
Is there anything quite so precious and pathetic as an artist in a liberal democracy screaming “Hitler! HITLERRRRRRRR!” because somebody threatens to take her federal grant money away?
If supporters of public funding of the arts cannot make a more compelling argument for it other than that left-wing radicals ought to be kept on the government teat so they can continue to tell the public FUC YOU, so Hitler won’t win, then why should people care?
Nota bene, I do think that there is a federal role for arts funding, but that it should be confined to supporting traditional arts institutions, and arts education. If a genderqueer theosophist with an MFA wants to chant the Urantia Book at a bowl of clabbered milk to stand against the patriarchy, fine by me — just find some other sucker to pay for it.