October 9, 2004

On Political Guidance From Artists and Performers

My Texas art-teacher daughter expressed the view on our family blog that we should listen to the voices of the creative people in deciding political questions (hyperlinks by me):

I am a Democrat because I love Susan Sarandon, alfalfa sprouts, French existentialism, Big Bird, contemporary art, and punk rock. Listen to the voices of creative people and vote with the artists, musicians, writers, interior designers, freaks, vegans, and beret wearing mimes. (Yes, I'm certain Big Bird is voting for Kerry this year. He voted for a third party candidate last election.. and he won't make that mistake again!)
I would find it difficult to listen to music that is meaningful to me and then practice politics that contradict that world view.
I believe that the things that make life worth living, such as painting, music, literature, are not just window dressing. The arts are the best building blocks of human culture and a worthy source of political inspiration.

Love my daughter madly and respect both her art and her brain. But I got to thinking and put down some thoughts on the family blog, which I've edited for this public one, adding a bunch of hyperlinks.

I'm not so sure about taking political guidance from artists and performers, even if I'm no Laura Ingraham. My barber, Lonnie, cuts my hair beautifully, but I wouldn't ask his advice about nutrition, immigration reform, or gardening.

(a) When it comes to artists (in the broad sense, musicians, actors, and mimes included), I'm dubious indeed. Ever since François Villon, at least, there have been artists who were vagabonds, drop-outs, high-livers, voluntarily poor (maybe the last two are a contradiction), and generally self-created outsiders. (This history is truncated and simplified, but it'll do for now). So one species of artist is the garret-dwelling or wandering rebel and outsider.

These folks are great as mockers of social convention and often quite creative. But most of them never met a payroll, and wouldn't want to, either. They also never conducted a fair trial, worked out a budget, or negotiated a compromise between competing interest groups. And fer sure most never defended a country under military threat. Doesn't mean they aren't good at their craft.

(b) The artist as political mentor idea doesn't test well, either, it seems to me. Picasso, certainly an innovator and creator of great works, was a Stalinist even when the deliberate starvation of the Ukraine and the purges were known (My sister says he was a misogynist, too). Guérnica still a great work even if there was a log in Stalin's eye as well as that of the Germans in the Spanish Civil War. Carl Orff's Carmina Burana is a fine (maybe not great) choral work, and Leni Riefenstahl was a highly talented film maker and later photographer, though both were on the Nazi side. Dennis Miller and Janeane Garofalo don't have the same political views, but they're both funny in their way.

(c)She's on to something, though, with the grouped cultural references (Humvees and Blockbuster, Babdists and Pat Boone, etc.) The marketers do identify different subgroups of the population around clusters of preferences both for consumer goods and values -- it's pscyhographic segmentation in B-school jargon. So single, childless females are more likely to vote Dem., married women with children GOP, Pentecostalist deer hunters GOP, Thomas Frank, who wrote What's the Matter With Kansas? laments the tendency of culturally conservative Middle-Western blue-collar family types to vote against what he conceives to be their economic interests.

I don't know whether I'm a latte-swigging, bicoastal, NPR-listening, artsy-fartsy secular, or a middle-aged, middle-class, property-owning white father, or both, let alone how that all affects my voting, tho' the pros seem to think it's relevant. I do know I'm a skeptic and I think my current preference is mostly based upon my belief that even though I could write a book (or a long think-piece, anyway) about what the Bushies have done wrong on the issue, I don't trust the Democrats to defend the country against Islamofascism, and everything else takes second place. (That's not intended as a poltiical argument, just self-analysis). I like "White Wedding" and giant vinyl burgers, but I'm not about to ask Billy Idol (cool site!) or Claes Oldenburg how to vote.

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