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Garrison Keillor? Who He?

Unpersoning the accused 'Prairie Home Companion' host is a totalitarian act

Garrison Keillor? Who he? David Vossbrink writes:

Garrison Keillor has been disappeared into the Memory Hole. If you look for his biography or the archived shows from a half century of “A Prairie Home Companion” on the website of Minnesota Public Radio since his fall from grace, you’ll now find only this: “Sorry, but there’s no page here.”

Keillor and his entire body of work from “A Prairie Home Companion” and “Writer’s Almanac” have been effectively erased from the archives of MPR, along with the work of all the other storytellers, singers, poets and production staff who made the shows successful.

In these tumultuous days of unceasing revelations of sexual scandals in media, politics and business, media enterprises especially face a new ethical challenge with their fallen stars: What do you do with history and art?

That’s a very good question, though it really should be an easy one to answer: as a general rule, the art is separate from the artist. The MPR panic is what you would expect from a Stalinist regime dealing with figures who have fallen out of ideological failure. Unless MPR has evidence that Keillor was some kind of unspeakable monster, this response has been hysterical and unjust — unjust not just to those who worked on the show, including Keillor, but unjust to the show’s fans, and future fans.

MPR has given no details of its decision to unperson Keillor, other than it believes him guilty of sexual harassment. Keillor told his side of the story, to some extent, and if he’s right, there’s no way this is a proper response by MPR. Then again, he might be self-servingly manipulating the truth. We don’t know yet, and may never know.

Vossbrink continues:

As consumers of news, entertainment and art, we should be able to choose what we want to watch. If you’re uncomfortable with the work of sleazy movie stars, celebrities and producers, then you can ignore them. That shouldn’t be MPR’s call.

By the Memory Hole standard, we wouldn’t have much history or culture to choose from our collective pasts. Too many artists and politicians from other eras have been pigs, though their art and their decisions live on. We should be able learn from their histories.

We learn, too, from debates about confederate monuments and the whitewashing of history, and how we handle the paradoxes of Thomas Jefferson as a slave-holding champion of liberty, Christopher Columbus as a bold and brutal explorer, and Robert E. Lee as traitor and war hero.

If you only chose to partake of art, music, and literature created by morally upstanding persons, you’d quickly come to the end of what’s available. Museums would empty out. Concert halls would fall silent. Bookstores would have to be repurposed as yoga studios, and movie theaters as hipster churches. The unfortunate truth is that bad, or at least deeply flawed, people often make the best art.

Assuming the worst about Garrison Keillor’s private behavior does not negate the decades of pleasure — wholesome pleasure, let it be noted; my kids and I used to listen to his show together — that his quality radio program provided. If we grant MPR and content-owners like them the right to erase the artistic legacy of creators like Keillor, where does it stop? Who will be next?

Read the whole thing. Oddly enough, what’s happened to Keillor makes me more opposed to removing Confederate statues — not because of any sympathy for the Confederacy (I have none), but because of fear of erasing historical memory. All totalitarian regimes know that the key to controlling a people is controlling its memory. We are, for now, a free people. One key to preserving our freedom is saving as much cultural memory we can from those who, whether out of nefarious motives or an overabundance of moral zeal, would prefer that we not know.

You can walk into any good bookstore in the country and buy the works of Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Ezra Pound, though both were pro-fascist during the Second World War. And you should be able to! To unperson someone whose artistic work is as gentle and anodyne as Garrison Keillor’s because of some alleged sins in his personal life ought to chill writers, musicians, artists, and those who love art, music and literature, to the bone. I’ve mentioned in this space on several occasions that I hear from readers who grew up in Communist countries, and who tell me that they sense more and more the same atmosphere of their youth coming into existence here. This erasing of Keillor and his enormous and valuable creative legacy from history has to be setting off their internal alarms.



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