Culture

Artists don’t live in an alternative universe

The current saga of Roman Polanski, who aspires to the lofty category of "artist," reminds us of the old Puritan suspicion of actors as immoral. It may shock people of all persuasions to learn that all artists–and scientists as well–were subjected to withering criticism by that patron saint of modern liberalism, Jean Jacques Rousseau. "[T]he depravity [is] real," wrote the author of the Discourse that won the prize of the Academy of Dijon in 1750, among peoples whose "souls have been corrupted in proportion to the advancement of our sciences and arts toward perfection."

Critics of Rousseau were quick to point out that he did not miss any of Moliere’s plays and thought they had espied a hypocrite. But Rousseau’s main concern was the popularization of the arts and sciences, retaining immense respect for those with genuine talents. He feared that these disciplines, if freed altogether from social or political control, threatened not only to corrupt the nations that indulged them but degraded art and science themselves.

More, as artists and scientists gain prominence they regard themselves as beyond criticism and become indifferent to the fate of their fellow citizens. They even become toadies of corrupt regimes as long as they are left free to do as they please, and those who lived under monarchies were willing to glorify them.

Rousseau believed that the passion for distinction could find an outlet in the arts and sciences no less than in politics and war, and saw clearly that many whose ambitions far exceeded their talents would attempt nonetheless to reap the rewards of celebrity and fame.

Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist that "the love of fame is the ruling passion of the noblest minds," convinced that the greatest among us would perform great deeds so as to be remembered for all time. The patriots of 1776 founded a republic and thereby won lasting fame.

However, Abraham Lincoln warned in his famous Lyceum Speech of 1838 that those who seek fame are as likely to win it by destroying republics as by establishing them, indicating that moral virtue in our leaders was necessary to avoid the fate of ancient Greece and Rome with Alexander and Caesar, and modern France with Napoleon.

Lincoln’s political critique applies to no less to other famous people, particularly artists and scientists. Is it difficult to see the passion for fame in Charles Darwin’s challenge to the natural law teachings of the founders of modern science with his theories of random chance in the biological world? Of Pablo Picasso’s revolutionizing of painting as no longer a representation of the visual world?

The dime store versions of these talented but misguided souls are persons who advance their careers by endorsing the "consensus view" in the learned academies, such as the dangers of "global warming," and Hollywood producers who confuse their passion for pushing the moral and political envelope with genuine talent.

People who seek distinction from being contrary to what the majority of their fellow citizens believe or support have convinced themselves that they are "a cut above" all those they regard as dummies, and use their status as a free ticket to a life of unaccountable behavior.

Polanski illustrates this perfectly. He committed a heinous crime and fled the country before sentencing, living on the lam in Europe for over 30 years. He and his "artistic" friends believe that his status entitles him to immunity from laws that govern everyone else. No one exposed this vanity better than The Nation's Katha Pollitt:

"The widespread support for Polanski shows the liberal cultural elite at its preening, fatuous worst. They may make great movies, write great books, and design beautiful things . . . But in this case, they're just the white culture-class counterpart of hip-hop fans who stood by R. Kelly and Chris Brown . . . "

Wasn’t Polanski in Switzerland, a neutral country, and attending an international arts festival, a world of the immortals? Who are these narrow-minded law enforcement officers who think they can arrest the producer for something that Whoopi Goldberg informed us was not "rape rape?"

The arts and sciences are among the greatest gifts of our Maker to the human race, but every gift should be treated with the respect it deserves and not used as an excuse for vicious acts and cults of personality. Whether or not they make people corrupt, it is clear that they are no barrier to corruption. Morality remains central to civilized life.

Unimaginable leftism in Cambridge case

John Lennon’s 1971 lyrics to “Imagine” reflected the head Beatle's lofty idealism -- which was embraced by many, while others attacked the song's brazen, impudent, hardened, and bold promotion of socialism. Imagine there's no Heaven , It's easy if you try No hell below us, Above us only sky Imagine all the people, Living for today

Imagine there's no countries, It isn't hard to do Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too Imagine all the people, Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one I hope someday you'll join us, And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can No need for greed or hunger, A brotherhood of man Imagine all the people, Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one I hope someday you'll join us, And the world will live as one

Lyric highlights (or lowlights, depending on your perspective): IMAGINE THERE’S NO HEAVEN…IMAGINE THERE’S NO COUNTRIES…AND NO RELIGION TOO…IMAGINE NO POSSESSIONS…IMAGINE ALL THE PEOPLE, SHARING ALL THE WORLD…I HOPE SOMEDAY YOU’LL JOIN US, AND THE WORLD WILL LIVE AS ONE.

Weren’t statements like "imagine no possessions" characterized as un-American in 1971? How about no religion, no countries, and his vision for a one world society? John Lennon expressed his world vision to a rebellious and sympathetic post-Vietnam war America. Was his agenda idealistic, therefore, unrealistic? Was he promoting Communism or Socialism, therefore, a radical agenda? Most assuredly.

According to Wiktionary “What goes around comes around” is an English Proverb which means the status eventually returns to its original value after completing some sort of cycle. That can be a frightening thought, but, unfortunately, it is true. Fast forward 38 years…

Can you IMAGINE a police officer in Cambridge, Massachusetts arresting a hostile and unruly Harvard University professor late one night after which the President of the United States, shooting from the hip, hastily and irrationally jumps into the fray offering “I don’t have all the facts, but the police acted stupidly.” After several days of hectic damage control meetings and frantic back peddling by his minions our “beloved” President spoke again saying “I should have chosen my words more carefully.” No, Mr. President, you should have stayed out if it. But I am thrilled you have alienated every policeman and policewoman in America. And to cap off several days of irresponsible remarks our #1 hothead-in-chief offered “it might have been better if cooler heads had prevailed.”

Don’t you have anything else to do Mr. President? How about dealing with the unprecedented debt, reckless spending, massive unemployment and the economic crisis you and your cronies in Congress foisted upon an unwilling America? Or yet another “Obamnation” due to your ill-advised and disastrous cap & trade plan which is nothing more than a new tax on the working class? How about the health care program you are forcing down our collective throats despite our repeated protestations? And all you can do is resort to name calling for those who oppose your plans (“obstructionists”). That doesn’t sound like really mature leadership and the change we need, Mr. President.

To add fuel to the fire Massachusetts “beloved” African-American Governor Deval Patrick chimed in with this ill-advised remark, “A policeman coming to your front door is every black man’s worst nightmare.” What? Oh, did I mention Cambridge police sergeant James Crowley is white and the unruly Harvard professor is an African-American and the neighbor who called the police to report the apparent home break-in was also African-American? It should all be irrelevant.

While others may say President Obama is arrogant I cannot agree. He is more than arrogant...perhaps elitist. It has been said his arrogance is exceeded only by his lack of integrity. Shame on President Obama and Governor Patrick for their racially divisive and uninformed remarks.

EPILOGUE: My personal response to the very talented Mr. Lennon whose life was cut way too short and the perhaps well-meaning but certainly inexperienced Mr. Obama regarding your shared agenda for socialism in America… no, I cannot IMAGINE that!

Leftist agenda of TV entertainment

This month ABC’s crime drama Castle has emerged as the newest entertainment show used by the left-liberal political machine. What else could explain the subject matter which transparently resembled a recent GOP Senator’s love affair scandal to which the main characters made the comment, “so much for family values.” Not to be outdone, the show following, Eli Stone, depicted an ephemeral image of a woman dressed in a white sheer dress to which the star of the drama said, “…just like Britney Spears and Sarah Palin.” What? Did they write the show a few days before it aired?

Even more alarming are the re-runs of shows like Boston Legal and Will & Grace, which mysteriously appear at a time when certain political issues are in the news. Here are just a few examples: Boston Legal “Race Issa” (2004) makes a reference to a vice president shooting a hunting pal and the two stars laughing over a brandy about the obvious reference; “Squid Pro Quo” (2006) where the issue of abortion in India is debated in a court room referring to the “problem” of the U.S. refusing to provide funding for abortion clinics overseas.

In a Will & Grace episode, “Word Salad Days” (2006) re-run, a discussion ensues about the DiVinci Code and a reference is made to whether that would “turn him into the Karl Rove of the 16th century.” Another Will & Grace episode “A Gay/December Romance” (2004) created a scenario of an art show and having the character Jack remark how it is a good place to meet old gay men who support young gay guys, “just like [the relationship between] Dick Cheney and George Bush.”

These are TV sitcom shows…not media news. The scurrilous attacks on the Conservative Right inserted into what is meant to be simply entertainment is not only disturbing, but downright dangerous.

Do not let TV be turned into a political machine. Protest these shows by grabbing your remote and turn to another channel. Ratings rule. Write to the producers of these shows and their advertisers and tell them you prefer not to be inundated by their political message on shows meant only to entertain. Consumers control, express your right to be free of media sabotage into the sanctuary of your family home.

Our language controls our political thought

"Modern English . . . is full of bad habits which spread by imitation . . . If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration."–George Orwell, 1946 Had George Orwell, author of those dystopian classics 1984 and Animal Farm, lived long enough to notice the gradual academic takeover of the English language I do not doubt that he would be highly critical. The questionable academic terms now used by practically everyone, whatever their politics, are Culture, Values and Ideology. These terms not only mischaracterize those basic American principles and institutions which are most near and dear to us but actually undermine them.

Let us begin with culture. Today this term, the contribution of 19th century German philosophy, is used as a synonym for society (or any group of people), which makes little sense. Originally culture meant deliberate cultivation of plants, as in agriculture. But if agriculture were understood in the same way as, say, gang culture, then agriculture could be the growing of weeds with perhaps a few whiskey bottles strewn about. Political philosopher Leo Strauss had this insight many years ago.

Not long ago culture referred to the realm of good taste, especially the fine arts. A cultured person could appreciate the best products of human art--e.g., music, painting, sculpture, plays, operas-- whereas an uncultured person did not. Of course, this is inconsistent with the popular idea that all tastes are equally legitimate, one man’s art somehow being another man’s vulgarity. This cheapens what is truly excellent.

This leads us to values. The term cannot be understood without reference to its supposed opposite, namely facts. The German social scientist, Max Weber, taught what he called the "fact-value distinction," which holds that facts are irreducible realities, while values are merely subjective tastes.

Only a boorish person would insist that what he likes is what everyone else should like, but value is a very broad term that includes not only taste but moral and political principles. We may prefer republican forms of government over despotic ones, but other peoples may feel otherwise. "Who are we," it is so often said, "to impose our values on others?"

If this is so, then not only do we not have a right to impose our political system on others; our preference for rule by the people is intrinsically no better than any other. Thus, it is unsurprising that many Americans' attachment to our Constitution is now lukewarm at best.

Finally, we come to ideology. This too is a contribution of German thought, particularly Karl Marx, who understood ideology as the rationalization of the ruling class for its dominance. He is famous for describing politics as nothing more than the organized oppression of one class by another. The real force in human life, he argued, was control of the means of production. With the Communist revolution, supposedly no one would control production and the state could be reduced to mere administration with no more politics.

What a cruel joke that turned out to be! The fact that Marx was wrong in his analysis did not stop his followers from imposing tyrannical regimes in Russia, China and elsewhere which never led to a "withering away of the state." Nor did it stop a lot of non-Communists from adopting his understanding of ideology for their own purposes.

Whenever someone influenced by the alleged insights of Marxism seeks to discredit an opposing viewpoint, he will call it an ideology. The object may be similar to Marx’s, viz., that the opposing view rationalizes a class interest, or that the viewpoint is unrealistic or at variance with the facts.

Ideology is surely not with difficulties, but it is often applied unfairly to political philosophies which are not only not rationalizations, unrealistic or at variance with the facts, but which are grounded in human nature. The best known to us is found in the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men by the consent of the governed . . . "

The terms, Culture, Values and Ideology, are inconsistent with and subversive of free republican government. Free society is not any old culture but one which is in accordance with human nature. Liberty is not merely a value but the right of every human being. And the political philosophy of the Declaration is not an ideology but based on "the laws of nature and of nature’s God."

If we would perpetuate our precious heritage, we need to watch our language. Academic weasel words won’t cut it.

Fame is fool's gold

Except for flipping burgers at Jack-In-The-Box, I earned my first paycheck as a professional actress. My mother put me on the stage when I was three years old, and her enchantment with Hollywood was not unlike that of Mama Rose, the determined stage mother in Gypsy. I like to affectionately refer to her effect on my early childhood as a little like "Ethel Merman on steroids." Consequently, I've always been fascinated by the public's obsession with fame and the famous. From my vantage point, the trend has only intensified since my early days, shaking my tutu on the stage at Elitch Gardens. Michael Jackson began his life as the extension of his parents' drive and ambition and we watched his particular way of dealing with it as he grew into an adult performer. Like so many others who are not famous, he was a child as an adult because he was forced into adulthood, as a child. That's a cultural phenomenon for another article. Living as an extension of others was all he had ever known, and he recreated that pattern which came to enslave him yet again.

Hollywood values certainly didn't help matters, as appearances are everything in Hollywood. I was not surprised to learn that Jackson himself did much of the 'leaking" designed to keep him in the public consciousness. But what is it that makes the public so drawn to the hype that Hollywood dishes out, even when we know there is a feeble wizard behind the curtain, manipulating what we see and how we see it? Why have so many others aspired to this lifestyle despite the ugly underbelly and the serious, dangerous pitfalls? Isn't that what is behind the explosion of Facebook, YouTube and reality TV?

The thirst for fame can be as powerful a drug as Oxycontin. The more intense the addiction, the less likely one is to believe that they are "enough" just as they are. Such a deep sense of inadequacy can never be healed by the illusion of adoration by thousands or even millions, who know only the packaged image rather than the real person, with all too human frailties. A true friend after all, is one who knows you---and likes you anyway.

Those who have attained the coveted commodity can never live up to the romanticized image either, even if they've begun to believe their own hype. Some feel like an imposter and others find a depth of lonliness in so much superficiality. In many cases, the same adoring fans hide jealous glee when the idol falls of his pedestal. Isn't our First Commandment about idolotry? It is as relevant today as ever before.

Perhaps this is one of the root causes for the rampant drug use, profound depression and high suicide rate in Hollywood. The same goes for those who will do anything necessary to join the ranks. I have nothing against "show biz" but I've grown to love the small realities of life and the knowledge that truth is always more fascinating than fiction. It takes longer than we would like In some cases, but eventually, the truth will out.

Could some of this be an explanation for the idol worship of Barack Obama? That's a cultural phenomenon for another article.