Category Archives: art

If We Could Change The World

There’s been a lot of talk around the internets about the state of the national Democratic Party, the future of the Tennessee Democratic Party, yada yada. Clearly progressives are disappointed that nationally we’ve received very little for all we did to bring Democrats the majority in 2006 and the White House in 2008. Meanwhile, our state party is filled with “Democrats” like Doug Jackson of Dickson, known for his rabidly pro-life, pro-gun, anti-gay positions, including a bill that would ban gays from being foster parents. And really, TNDP: was Ty Cobb, someone quite possibly more conservative than the Republican who ultimately won the seat, the best we could do?

We are not happy, and now we even have liberal activists from Berkeley and L.A. wanting to primary some of our least heinous Congress Critters. The irony is, the Republican Party is facing the same problem: its rabble-rousing Tea Party base is threatening to purge the GOP of its moderate members, sending folks like Arlen Specter over to my side of the aisle, which frankly doesn’t please me one bit. I get the concept of the “big tent” but when that tent grows so large as to encompass members of the opposite party, something’s wrong. Meanwhile, conservative Dems like Parker Griffith of Alabama have jumped ship to the Republican Party.

So what the heck is going on here?

It all looks like so much shuffling of deck chairs on the Titanic to me. While it’s endless fodder for the Sunday morning gasbag shows and folks like Chris Matthews and Politico, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the past decade it’s that ultimately, it’s all meaningless. I hate to get all super-cynical here but let’s face it: in terms of really addressing the problems people face–lack of jobs, lack of access to things like a college education for their kids, affordable healthcare, etc.–politics amounts to very little.

The bottom line is, politics won’t fix our country’s problems. We’ve been told by both political parties that politics can change things, and maybe we bought that line for a while, but ultimately regardless of your political persuasion, you must have emerged from the Oughts realizing that’s a BS line peddled by people trying to raise money. The Bush years were a big fail for conservatives, who didn’t get the small government and fiscal restraint they wanted. On the left, Clinton gave us NAFTA, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and welfare “reform,” while Obama, though in office just a year, has already escalated a war and failed to deliver the healthcare reform we need. Yes there have been a few, modest little blips of positive news here and there (mostly on the environment), but our country is sinking faster into the abyss, and it’s members of both parties who are responsible.

So, for people who really want to change things, make them better, who still idealistically believe in changing the world, what do you do? It seems our votes are meaningless. Our government is too broken, the system too corrupted to be fixed the old fashioned way. Our media no longer informs, and now we can no longer even agree on the basic facts of an issue like climate change or healthcare. Everything is just a mass of white noise, with people hollering about “socialism” and “fascism” and “government-run healthcare” and “liberal scientists” and stuff that’s so far removed from reality so as to make the debate meaningless.

I have friends who still believe in the old-fashioned boycott, who are calling on people to do things like dump their health insurance in the hopes of bringing about reform. But I’ve questioned the efficacy of boycotts for years now. We’re just too splintered as a society now.

I have my personal boycotts, I don’t shop at WalMart or any of Lee Beaman’s businesses, or any of Dale Inc.’s businesses. They’re all major contributors to Republican Party candidates and PACs and, in Beaman’s case, wingnutty groups like the Club For Growth, English First and the Swift Boat smearmongers. I don’t want to support that so I don’t do business with those folks but calling for a boycott is going to be as effective as the religious right’s failed boycott of Disney. All it did was make the AFA and Southern Baptist Convention look foolish.

Nothing is black and white anymore (if it ever was); everything is shades of gray. I remember shopping at Whole Foods the day after progressives called for a boycott because of CEO John Mackey’s Wall Street Journal op-ed. The store was as packed as ever. I didn’t join the calls for a boycott because frankly I thought it was stupid to punish a company that supports organic farming, fair trade, local agriculture, etc. because you disagree with the CEO’s position on health reform. But if that’s a boycott you personally want to support, more power to you. We all have our own personal standards, we have to wake up and look at ourselves in the mirror in the morning, so do what you’ve got to do. But making someone feel like a dick because they won’t put their family at risk by dumping their health insurance? Nah, I’m not going to sign up for that.

If voting doesn’t work, and boycotts don’t work, what will? Increasingly I’m convinced that the only thing that will change the world, indeed the only thing that ever has, is the creative arts. Music, literature, art, film: these things hit people on an emotional level, they can transform one’s view of the world and engage people in a way that politics does not.

(To the conservatives rolling their eyes at me right now, let me remind you: Ayn Rand still has a movement today because of her books.)

So I’m going to challenge all of my liberal friends to get creative this year. Now is the time to take an idea and put it to music, movement, poetry or canvass. Take your view of the world and write a short story about it and put it out there. The mass media has changed, the gatekeepers are gone. Anyone can put their work on the internet, on a blog, on YouTube or iTunes. Now is the time to express yourself. Enough with the electioneering and fundraising and petitioning. Now is the time to touch people where it will do the most good: in their hearts.

And to my creative women friends, I’d like to call your attention to the Tennessee Women’s Theater Project’s 2010 call for entries for its spring Women’s Work showcase. All sorts of creative arts are represented, not just dramatic works. Check it out!

So my liberal progressive friends: Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is simple. Express yourselves.

Now get busy.


Filed under art, politics, rants

>Hey Lamar! Spending IS Stimulating, Ya Moron

>Lamar Alexander doesn’t get it. But John Aravosis does:

It doesn’t matter what the money is spent on, in principle, IF the money is spent in a way that fills the demand gap. Meaning, if you hire a million workers to help clean up the national mall, you are not just getting a service (mall clean up), you are creating jobs (for the cleaners, the cleaning company that hires and manages them, new federal employees hired to oversee the project, the hot dog vendors on the mall, the guys who rent the port-a-potties, the taxi drivers who have to shepherd the people to the mall, the gas stations that sell gasoline to the employees who drive to the mall, the local city government that sees increased metro ridership, and income, as a result of the new employees heading to work, the accounting firm that handles the employees’ paychecks, the health insurance company that handles their benefits, the accountants that handle their tax returns, and even the Wall Street bad-guys who handle their retirement accounts. Those previously unemployed or underemployed workers now have a greater hope for the future, with more money in their pocket and a job, and with a little luck, being more financially secure, they are more likely to themselves spend more money on goods and services in the future.

Similarly, over at Eschaton this morning there was a nice conversation about how spending on the arts stimulates the economy. Simply put: if you’re going to put on a show (or make a movie) you need to hire carpenters, painters, electricians, caterers, printers, truck drivers, not to mention all of the supplies these trades use, etc. This should be a no-brainer, but because conservatives view things like the arts as trivial, they refuse to believe there is any benefit to investing in them. These are the same people who live in towns like Nashville and Brentwood, who benefit each day from the stimulating effect on the local economy of the country music and contemporary Christian/gospel music industries. Go figure.

While it’s possible that arts spending may not, dollar for dollar, be as stimulating as, say, building a new highway, the $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts that was taken out of the stimulus bill is not anywhere comparable to the funds devoted to bricks-and-mortar infrastucture projects in the bill. In fact, according to Ben Adler:

Unfortunately, $50 million is an awfully small amount: it is 1/600 of the $30 billion allotted for roads and bridges.

So quite your whining, rightards. It’s not like the money is all going to Derek Dye The Abstinence Clown. It would be amusing to hear conservatives whine about their favorite bugaboo, the NEA, except that it’s such a tired argument that I’m surprised and frustrated that anyone still buys into that nonsense anymore. It’s clearly one of those hot buttons the righties like to push when they need to get their base into a foamy-mouthed tizzy. And it still works, like the good zombie lie it is.

Adler goes on:

The money for artistic projects is almost by definition ready to be injected into the economy. It may take years to draw up a plan for a highway, obtain the right of way and fend off legal challenges before the bulldozers start rolling. But to buy a canvass and some paintbrushes, or even some metal for a public sculpture, is comparatively straightforward. That puts quick money into the pockets of the companies that build, sell and ship those artistic materials as well.

“The money goes straight into the economy,” says Janet Echelman, a sculptor whose giant metallic nets have revitalized public parks and downtowns from Texas to Portugal. “I pay two full-time assistants in my studio, plus consultants who are architects, engineers, and landscape architects, as well as lighting designers. A very large portion goes into fabrication, which is funding workers at a steel factory.” Echelman currently has a commission from Phoenix to build a centerpiece for a new downtown park that may face funding shortfalls. There are “shovel-ready” arts projects like hers throughout the country.

I’m not advocating a huge investment in the arts here, but I am saying that the whining is way out of kilter with the facts.

Just more ignorance being unleashed on Americans through a clueless media that parrots conservative talking points without bothering to dig a little deeper.

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Filed under art, economic stimulus, Sen. Lamar Alexander

>Ew. Just, Ew

>Those wacky kids:

Yale University said on Monday that it would not allow a senior to participate in a campus art exhibition unless she made a written statement that her “performance,” in which she repeatedly inseminated herself and then induced miscarriages, was a fiction that she had concocted.

Call me old-fashioned, but that ain’t art. It also ain’t true. It can’t be, unless the artist in question is Fertile Myrtle. This story reeks of bullshit. I mean come on, people. Use some common sense.

To wit:

Yale said last week that Ms. Shvarts had told three university officials that she had not inseminated herself or induced abortions but had made up the story as part of the project. On Friday, however, Ms. Shvarts insisted she had really experienced “repeated, self-induced miscarriages,” although she said that she had not known if she was actually pregnant.

Note to Ms. Shvarts: if you aren’t pregnant, then you can’t have a miscarriage. The two kind of go together.

But I digress:

Yale officials said the denials were part of the continuing art performance, and on Monday demanded that it end.

Oh! It all makes so much sense now. I can see some whacked out “performance artist” trying to make “art” out of a public uproar. That kind of seems to be where this country has been headed for the past couple of years, right? I mean look at the election coverage of our 24-hour news channels. If they haven’t raised “spectacle” to an art form, I don’t know what has.

But I wouldn’t label media hysteria and spectacle “art.” That gives it far too much credit.

The whole thing is just gross.

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Filed under art, weird stuff