Before I start, I’d like to say that this is a post related to my previous opinion on our president’s speech to school children Tuesday, and I’ve taken some flack for my position, both personally and in the “blog world”. Of course, it’s just my opinion and you’re welcome to disagree, I absolutely respect healthy debate and could very well be wrong on this. Frankly, I’ve had to do some soul searching, and understand why it seems crazy to oppose such a harmless-sounding speech. But I think that what I’m writing about today, and the many areas in our culture where indoctrination is subtly occurring, should make us all take notice, even of seemingly innocuous occurrences.
Any time a dictator has risen to power, he has used education and the arts to assist his cause. Hitler, Mussolini, Hussien, and countless other powerful men throughout the ages have understood the need for educating children to accept political beliefs, and then using the arts community to make such beliefs “cool” for the general population.
Please understand me. I am not comparing Obama to Hitler. But I think it’s fair to ask these questions. I’m just wondering why, if his policies will help our country, does he have to strive so much to get an army of artists and schoolchildren to back him up? Why won’t these ideas stand up on their own without invading the culture?
What happens to free speech when the government begins nudging artists to create works based on the goals of the current administration?
Patrick Courrieleche is a blogger and member of the Los Angeles arts community. He wrote back in August that he felt the arts community had a duty to “dissent” against political movements on occasion, but that he didn’t see that happening: “Throughout modern history, art typically enters politics on a mass scale in two fashions: first, as a check on power; second, as a tool used by those in power. Freedom of the Press comes into play in both cases, but in very different ways. In the first case, it protects political commentary by artists. This freedom is not a garnish. It is a necessary weapon, enshrined in the Constitution for the purpose of countering contradictions, hypocrisies, and distortions made by politicians and others in power. Yet the art community has responded to the Obama administration’s contradictions, hypocrisies, and distortions with near total silence.”
Just a few weeks after writing those words, Courrieleche got a phone call from the National Endowment for the Arts, the largest funder for the arts in the U.S. In this conference call, about 75 artists and creative people were encouraged to “respond to the call” to promote one of the administration’s policies–education, environment, health care–with art. Courrieleche writes: “One of the NEA’s major functions is providing grants to artists and arts organizations. The NEA has also historically shown the ability to attract ‘matching funds’ for the art projects and foundations that they select. So we have the nation’s largest arts funder, which is a federal agency staffed by the administration, with those that they potentially fund together on a conference call discussing taking action on issues under vigorous national debate. Does there appear to be any potential for conflict here?”
Courrieleche assures that he’s “not a right-wing nut job”. We all understand that if an individual feels passionately about a subject, then the beauty of free expression is that we can advance those views in whatever medium we choose. What is disconcerting is when government tries to encourage or manage such expression. It rather takes out the “free” in “free expression”, don’t you think?
Courrieleche writes: “Artists shouldn’t be used as tools of the state to help create a climate amenable to their positions, which is what appears to be happening in this instance. If the art community wants to tackle those issues on its own then fine. But tackling them shouldn’t come as an encouragement from the NEA to those they potentially fund at this coincidental time.”
As a last note, I think that we as Americans need to get back to loving our country rather than the current flavor of political party. If you support President Obama’s policies, then this all may sound like a great idea to you–a wonderful way to show support. (And if you want to show support on your own, by all means speak out but do you want to be told what to say by your government?) If our freedom of expression gets chipped away, what happens when the next administration enters, bringing a new philosophy? Is it worth the cost of losing our freedoms for a momentary success?
In President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, he famously said: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.”
Our country and founding principles of liberty and integrity are what we all should be upholding, not necessarily a specific administration or policy.