Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Once More, With Vitriol

So this little thing has busted out wide. The usual poo flingers are flinging the usual poo. I considered just re-posting my previous thoughts, because they're still operative, but then I saw this post from The Mirror Up To Nature and I thought it was worth some new observations. Mostly because I took his advice and listened to the whole thing (well, almost the whole thing...but more on why I stopped later).

You should absolutely go and listen. Seriously. Go ahead. Go now. It's late, but I can wait. But I do ask that you go and listen to the call itself and not the scary, scary excerpts posted on Big Hollywood. Listen to it all, in context. Go on now.

Did you listen to it? Did you make it all the way through? I got through the "sca-aary" parts and then I kind of lost interest. Because it's all pretty boring. It really, really is. It's a lot of safe, fuzzy, very liberal chit-chat full of buzzwords and mutual appreciation and rah-rah-rah stuff. And, yes, the artists are encouraged to do public service and, yes, they are encouraged to go out and support the President's initiatives. Yep, indeed. All very true. And all pretty anodyne and relatively harmless. Seriously.

This is beyond tempest in a teapot. Mostly because it wasn't really a random assortment of artists, gathered together by the NEA to discuss new funding initiatives. Let's just start there. To hear the conservatives and certain other folks tell it, this call was a search for a new Leni Reifenstahl, with the NEA providing the funding muscle to tempt those weak-willed (and, let's face it, already degenerate) artists into creating loving, hagiographic tributes to Dear Leader and his socialist designs on the country. None of that is true. At all. To begin with, the main sponsor of the call is United We Serve, the federal service initiative. Buffy Wicks and Yosi Sargent were very clearly guests on the call, joining in briefly to talk to artists they clearly knew (though there were obviously people they didn't know on the call) and to talk up serving. The main thrust of the call was about service, getting artists excited about doing service for their community. And, yeah, since apparently many of the artists had been involved in the campaign, there was clearly an assumption that the people on the call shared the same priorities and want to help the administration acheive its ends.

That was dumb. Absolutely. And probably improper. And like some, I think clarifying the rules for this kind of thing would be a good thing. It is interesting that the two folks most recently targeted by the right's monkey squad have backgrounds in community organizing. It's funny; during the call, Buffy Wicks makes the point that governing is different than campaigning or community organizing and they're all still figuring it out. A lesson was definitely learned.

But anyone who is beating the drum that this was troubling or dangerous or a slippery slope to government-sponsored art is just plain wrong. I'm sorry. Depsite my anger about this and my usual flamethrowing 'tude, I do hate to just flat-out call people out. But this call wasn't anything like that. After listening to it, I really feel that. It was a call for artists to get engaged in community service and in speaking to their communities. That is all. Really.

As I said before, this enrages me because the people raising this stink have a very clear political end in mind and are just making a huge mess in order to acheive it. They hate the NEA and they want to gut it. Art and Leonard do have it right: this is a fishing expedition. And we all know where those wind up. They are not to be trusted.

Laws weren't broken, no one was pressured, nothing was promised or implied. At worst, the people on the call would feel like they had a friend in the White House. That's about it. One of the things that chafes my ass about it is the brazen, shameless hypocrisy. I'm not going to pretend like I wasn't upset about the Bush initiatives and I don't mind the idea that conservatives are upset about Obama initiatives. But I do mind that they don't fight fair and I do mind that when liberals were making these claims, they were treated like wild-eyed radicals and now accusations with even less basis in reality are treated like sensible comments.

But again, I have to say: there is nothing wrong with encouraging artists to connect to their communities. That's what we should be doing. That should be the point. If those communities are conservative and those artists are conservative, they're as deserving of support. If the NEA were to somehow be funnelling money away from artists who disagreed with their political stances, that would be bad and I would definitely be out in the streets arguing about. But this ain't that. It just isn't.

Let's talk about actual corruption. Or this. Or this. Or...well, just about anything else. Seriously.

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