It’s not an attack on the arts, it’s an attack on communities

Art and architecture critic March 16 at 3:03 PM
Things could get worse, much worse. The president’s proposed budget eliminates much of the government’s long-standing commitment to the arts, to science, to education, to culture, to public broadcasting and community development. It calls not only for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, but also proposes the elimination of groups such as the Woodrow Wilson Center, a highly respected think tank that studies national and international affairs and just happens to be hosting a program Thursday called “The Muse of Urban Delirium: How the Performing Arts Paradoxically Transform Conflict-Ridden Cities Into Centers of Cultural Innovation.” It’s almost as if someone tried to fit as many dirty words — dirty in the current administration’s way of thinking — into one evening: Arts, Cities, Culture, Paradox, Innovation.

These cuts aren’t about cost savings — they’re far too small to make even a ding in the federal budget. They are carefully calculated attacks on communities, especially those that promote independent thinking and expression, or didn’t line up behind the Trump movement as it swept to power through the electoral college in November. But the president’s proposed budget also includes attacks on communities that did indeed support Trump but that are too powerless to resist. Among the independent agencies set for elimination: the Appalachian Regional Commission, which supports things such as job training, economic diversification (including the arts), tourism initiatives and Internet access in states like West Virginia, Alabama and Kentucky.

The strategy, perfectly calculated for a new era of rancor and resentment amplified by social media, is to focus people not on what will be lost, but who will lose. Why attack communities that support you? Because losing isn’t just a question of what side, what arguments, what ideology prevails in the political debate. Rather, losing is a stigma, a scarlet letter to hang on the necks of people who are losers. Losers are essential to the project of building a new political coalition, a coalition that celebrates winning. Winners are strong; losers are sad. If your aversion to being branded a loser is strong enough, you may even embrace policies that cause you harm.

President Trump’s proposed budget calls for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Small and rural programs would be hit hardest. (Erin Patrick O’Connor/The Washington Post)

Read through The Washington Post’s coverage of the budget proposal, and you hear what begins to sound like a broken record: These cuts will primarily affect marginalized or minority communities, people on the losing end of the American Dream. From an article about the Interior Department: “Historic-sites funding is important,” according to one expert, “because it supports tribal preservation officers and provides grants to underrepresented communities.” Or from the Labor Department: “The Trump administration proposed $2.5 billion in cuts for the Labor Department in a plan that would significantly reduce funding for job training programs for seniors and disadvantaged youth.”

Just in time for today’s announcement is an op-ed by Washington Post columnist George Will, who also calls for the elimination of the NEA. Will’s article would be a risible period piece — he is still seething over culture-war debates from more than a quarter century ago — if his hostility to the arts were not politically empowered by the democratic peculiarities of the last election, which brought into office a deeply unpopular president allied (for now) to a Congress pursuing deeply unpopular policies because many of its members are protected by gerrymandering.

Will rehashes the usual arguments: He reminds readers of a handful of grants that were deemed offensive by some in the early 1990s; he asserts that people will pay for the arts if they want the arts, and that state and local arts agencies will step up if the federal government (which helps fund these agencies) forsakes them; and argues that the arts are no different, no more a social good, have no more utility or spiritual value than “macaroni and cheese.” He not only fails to understand the nature of the arts, he also fails to understand the uniquely American three-legged stool system of federal stimulus allied to state and local support and bolstered by private donations that has enriched the arts and the country for more than half a century.

“The myriad entities with financial interests in preserving the NEA cloyingly call themselves the ‘arts community,’ a clever branding that other grasping factions should emulate,” he writes, cloyingly. “The ‘arts community’ has its pitter-patter down pat. The rhetorical cotton candy — sugary, jargon-clotted arts gush — asserts that the arts nurture ‘civically valuable dispositions’ and a sense of ‘community and connectedness.’ And, of course, ‘diversity’ and ‘self-esteem.’ ”

The arts have a powerful economic effect on our society and employ vast numbers of people, but the arts community is hardly an assemblage of cynical, self-interested, deep-pocketed financial interests (for that, look to the president’s Cabinet). The “pitter-patter” of this rapacious arts juggernaut is indeed well practiced by now, but only because attacks on the arts are now a seasonal performance from a determined minority political faction. The arts do indeed foster a sense of “community and connectedness” . . . in places like Nebraska, Alaska, Missouri, Nevada, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama. And the other 43 states of the Union. And not only do they nurture diversity, they also express and preserve the variegated richness of culture celebrated in that musty old Latin phrase “E pluribus unum” (it’s on the money, if you want to check).

But the most jejune moment of Will’s extraordinary performance is this: “What, however, is art? We subsidize soybean production, but at least we can say what soybeans are.” For a few centuries now, it has been the nature of art to wonder what art is. That’s how the arts think, how they operate, how they define the parameters of aesthetic experience. And for the entire history of the species, art has been fundamentally different, less tangible, less utilitarian in its function, than soybeans. These things are obvious, if you’ve ever spent time with the arts community, which in fact exists and adds immeasurably to the stability, cohesion, intelligence, beauty and resilience of the nation.

A comment on Robert Osborne (1932-2017), host of Turner Classic Movies

By David Walsh
8 March 2017

Robert Osborne, the longtime principal host for cable channel Turner Classic Movies (TCM), died March 6 at 84. He had been largely absent from the channel since early 2016. The cause of his death has not been announced.

Osborne was a calming, affable and intelligent presence on American television—something terribly rare! He came across as a decent person and clearly had a genuine commitment to the films he introduced.

In recent years, in the face of the overall condition of American television, it felt at times not simply that TCM was the best channel, but that it was the onlychannel one could watch.

Robert Osborne in 2014 (Photo credit: The Peabody Awards)

Osborne was born in the small town of Colfax, in eastern Washington. His father was a high school principal. Osborne fell in love with the movies at an early age. After graduating from the University of Washington, he tried to find work as an actor, with limited success. Lucille Ball, at whose Desilu Productions Osborne was under contract as an actor, suggested he concentrate on writing about American film history. He eventually became a critic and columnist for the Hollywood Reporter. He also wrote Academy Awards Illustrated (1965), with an introduction by Bette Davis. He became a host at TCM on its launch in 1994.

What role Osborne played in TCM film programming over the years is difficult to say, but clearly intriguing things happened in an undertaking with which he was associated. He certainly had a feeling for film history and traditions. Turner Classic Movies began operations, quite deliberately, on April 14, 1994, in New York City. In his introduction to 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter (2016), Osborne explains: “That day marked the 100th anniversary of film in the United States. It had been on April 14, 1894, that the first kinetoscope [early moving picture device] parlor opened in New York City—the launch of the film industry in the U.S. of A.”

Interior view of Kinetoscope with peephole viewer at top of cabinet

Over the past 23 years, in a generally difficult cultural landscape, TCM has proved one of the few locales in the American media-entertainment universe where decisions were made largely on the basis of artistic merit. However and by whoever it was established, a certain integrity seemed to reign there. The cable channel continues to broadcast several hundred older films a week, most made before 1970, uncut and without commercials.

In regard to the latter issue, Osborne told an interviewer, “It’s so essential to see films without commercial breaks and interruptions. If you see Hitchcock’s Rebecca … that whole movie is predicated on mood and slow suspense. You can’t break that mood for a commercial. You lose the rhythm and the impact of it.” Readers around the world may not find the thought of commercial-free film presentation so startling, but, unhappily, in the US, where television is largely a scaffolding for corporate promotion—in November 2015, nearly 20 percent of all programming minutes were devoted to paid advertising (the figure is closer to 25 percent on major networks)—it is extremely, almost provocatively, unusual.

Speaking of a certain integrity, Osborne publicly identified himself with opposition to the Hollywood purges, hosting “Survivors of the Blacklist: A Panel Discussion” in November 2009 in New York. Actress and blacklist victim Lee Grant, along with Christopher Trumbo (son of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo) and Joe Gilford (son of Jack Gilford) were among the panelists.

It is not necessary, of course, to make Osborne into more than he was. At its weakest, Osborne and TCM pandered to Hollywood nostalgia, small talk and star worship. Not every one of his introductions was especially profound.

But then on TCM, out of the blue, one would encounter Satyajit Ray’s The Apu Trilogy, or Jean Vigo’s Zéro de conduite or a program of 26 films by Akira Kurosawa (in March 2010, to mark 100 years since the Japanese filmmaker’s birth)—and one’s jaw would drop. This—something that doesn’t obviously and immediately earn large profits, something that seems to be done merely for the beauty or the interest of it—on American television! It won’t last, someone will see to that!

Poster for Jean Vigo’s Zéro de conduite (Zero for Conduct) (1933)

It is probably true that no other enterprise has done as much to make important films accessible to a wide audience. According to media reports, TCM has an audience in the US of some 62 million people a month, many of them unswervingly loyal.

To Osborne’s credit, he insisted on showing a variety of films. In his introduction to 52 Must-See Movies, he wrote: “The programming plan for the channel was always to show movies from all countries and from all eras, big productions, small ones, legendary ones, as well as B-budget movies.”

Where else on American television would you have had the chance to see Nine Days in One Year, the 1962 Soviet black-and-white drama film directed by Mikhail Romm, or The Cranes Are Flying (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1957), another Soviet film? Or R.W. Fassbinder’s 1973 World on a Wire ? Or various Italian neo-realist works? Or Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (1959)? Or films by Michael Powell, Jean Renoir, Fritz Lang, Sergei Eisenstein, Ingmar Bergman, Kenji Mizoguchi, Federico Fellini, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Abbas Kiarostami, Michelangelo Antonioni, Max Ophuls, Yasujiro Ozu and Alain Resnais?

Aside from introducing younger audiences, and others, to some of the remarkable and complex efforts made by American studio directors from the 1930s to the 1960s, TCM programmers have made genuine efforts to broaden its viewers’ tastes, showing silent films, short films, and documentaries and raising the issue as well of those who have been largely excluded from Hollywood productions. The cable channel broadcast “Black Images on Film” in 2006, “Asian Images on Film” in 2008, “Latino Images on Film” in 2009, “Native American Images on Film” in 2010 and “Arab Images on Film” in 2011. In 2007, TCM aired the series “Screened Out,” on the history of the representation of homosexuality on film.

In its “Star of the Month” segment, TCM focuses on dozens of films by a particular performer, often bringing to light relatively obscure or forgotten works. Aside from the obvious luminaries, those performers have included Leslie Howard, Christopher Lee, Jane Wyman, Kay Francis, Myrna Loy, William Powell, Robert Ryan, Jean Harlow, Susan Hayward, Fred MacMurray, Marie Dressler, Ava Gardner, Ann Sothern, Rita Hayworth, Sterling Hayden, Lauren Bacall, Stewart Granger, David Niven, John Garfield and many others.

In one of the more intimate and often charming TCM segments, various contemporary performers or commentators (or offspring) pay brief tribute to actors and actresses of a previous period. So, over film imagery, we hear Elizabeth Taylor on Montgomery Clift, Robert Redford on Natalie Wood, Kevin Spacey on Jack Lemmon, Janet Leigh on Norma Shearer, Julianne Moore on Myrna Loy, Bill Irwin on Harold Lloyd, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Laura Dern on Barbara Stanwyck, Tony Curtis on Cary Grant, Claire Bloom on Charlie Chaplin, Jane Fonda on Henry Fonda, Ernest Borgnine on Robert Ryan and so on.

There are many reasons for the decline of American filmmaking, and this is not the occasion to discuss them. But just let it be said here that, without for one second intending to, the mild-mannered, unassuming Osborne and the countless films he introduced stood as a sharp and constant rebuke to the generally empty, crude, noisy and dull efforts of the contemporary movie industry.

 

La La Land and the loving lap of capitalism

Show me the money: 

How post-Depression movie musicals choose the dollar bill over happy endings

Show me the money: La La Land and the loving lap of capitalism
La La Land (Credit: Summit Entertainment)

From its opening number — a cross between a restrained “Gotta Dance” from “Singin’ in the Rain” and a demure “Hot Lunch” from “Fame”— “La La Land” promises a Hollywood musical about fools who dare to dream and dreamers who dare to be fooled, both about love and career, though never the twain shall meet. From the moment the nameless hopefuls hopefully leap from their cars on a stalled Los Angeles freeway and begin singing about how they left their small towns for Tinseltown and Emma Stone gives Ryan Gosling the finger, director/screenwriter Damien Chazelle promises both screwball comedy and a nostalgic paean to the gilded age of musicals past. For the most part, he delivers.

Listen, no one will ever be Fred and Ginger. As my wife would say, Fred Astaire is the Michael Jordan of dance. There is, however, a certain dreamy, floating quality to Mia and Seb — Stone and Gosling — that is more reminiscent of Astaire movies than, say, the deranged earnestness of Garland and Rooney. The hopeful hopefuls trying to make it in the big town and put on a show. And by make it, I mean, make hay and make hay. Let’s remember that Fred Astaire movies were big at the height of the Depression. In fact, all movie musicals of this era are about class and entitlement. (See “Gold Diggers of 1933.”) Thus the obsession with the rich people falling down in the mud and the idea of the madcap heiress in a gilded cage or the girl who struggles as a dance instructor becoming a big star (“Swing Time”). Interestingly, aside from the Golden Age — the forties and fifties — the leaning of the Hollywood musical is more rom-trag than rom-com. For one, the music people were listening to on the radio had changed. “Hair” happened. While Broadway is mostly built on nostalgia and happy endings, “Hair” was a takedown of the establishment that basically ruined musical theater for the next 20 years. Meanwhile, “Grease,” a puff-piece valentine about a nice girl who puts on hot pants so everyone will like her, stole America’s left ventricle and reminded us how fun it was to be a slut and a delinquent and then get into a car and fly away.

When you really think about it, the “Grease” blip makes total sense after Watergate, as “La La Land” does in the era of 45. America hated all agents of power. Hollywood began banking on the fact that people were trapped in a nostalgic reverie of epic proportions. People knew America was in the shitter. The country witnessed an expansion of an earlier trend from pre-Depression capitalism that operated in a narrow band of faith. In short, the Depression, put on pause, merely popped up in the seventies. Thus the message of musicals: Democracy is a lie, capitalism is flawed, so forget that sunset, kids.

Capitalism may also be why the ol’ juggling-love-and-career trope rears its seemingly sexist head in “La La Land.” It’s not that Mia should choose a man over vocation as Annie Oakley was forced to in “Annie Get Your Gun,” as much as a bittersweet reminder of what still keeps us apart. How who we were make us who we are and what you have to sacrifice to make it in this lousy world. Is Seb a sellout? Is Mia? Does it matter? In America, the two most coveted dream gigs are movie star and rock star and this film kinda brass-rings it for both, at least from a bank account perspective. Aside from the song “The Fools Who Dream,” one of the most poignant moments in “La La Land” is when Seb listens to Mia talking to her mother on the phone about his lack of work as he gazes sadly at a rust stain on his popcorn ceiling. The rust stain is his stalled career. The death of jazz. Maybe even Hollywood itself.

True, class tension exists in all comedy, especially musical comedy. See Plautus or “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” The low-person-brought-high gives itself over to certain types of story that make it easy for a storyteller to expose a certain tension in certain systems about power and desire. This is what commedia is about. Love and money, the girl and the gold, hearts and dollar signs and the itchy impossibility of trying to get both simultaneously. In “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Millie, a lovable gold digger, comes to the big city to get a job and marry a rich man but instead ends up with a “green-glass love,” AKA the dorky loser who, lucky for her, turns out to be the son of an heiress.

What’s more, as Watergate made America embarrassed about itself, the idea that sad endings were more real and relevant pervaded.” Grit was good. Movie musicals, even those with “happy” endings, moved into complex territory. Even “Sound of Music,” the most successful movie musical pre-Nixon, was a harbinger of bittersweet endings to come — The von Trapps cross the Swiss mountains on foot only, oh wait: all the Jews died in an oven. “Cabaret” is both about the Holocaust and wacky broads who make life out of tragedy. “Chicago” has a happy ending about two vaudevillian murderers who manage to get away with it, and in “Rent,” Mimi, another performer, somehow rises from the dead, though we can only assume this will be short-lived.

In Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge!” we see the entire debate between love and money writ large. Will the hooker with a heart of iron pick the penniless artist or will she sell herself out to the wealthy man? Obviously, we’re supposed to root for Ewan McGregor and hope that Nicole Kidman joins him to starve in a garret. Because rich people are villains and capitalism equals the root of all evil. Money bad. Heart good. Only Nicky Kid dies in a big musical number in front of all of Paris, so not only does the whore die — yeah, yeah— but capitalism dies; so what are we left with? A new kind of story, where the nice rebel boychik gets his start in show biz by writing a tale that will live forever. Welcome to Hollywood, Mr. Arnstein.

“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” is the anti-“Moulin Rouge!” yet with a more rueful intensity. It’s about love and life and what could have been and can never be because of class and family and war. At the end of it all, Geneviève rolls up at Guy’s gas station in a Mercedes looking fab and they have a chat and then they say a wistful goodbye. Snow is falling. He kisses his children. There is, in this film as in “La La Land,” a sense that these characters wound up with the life they needed to have. I mean, Catherine Deneuve pumping gas? Get real. It’s not that they shouldn’t love each other, it’s that they cannot have a happily ever after. What’s romantic about “Umbrellas” is that they tried. . .

Maybe it’s not that love and commerce can’t intermarry, or that the girl can’t get the guy and the gig and the gold. Indeed, the pull of rich versus poor wages a strange war on a country’s heart. Who knows. Maybe they can still be friends.

Emily Jordan is a YA writer living in New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @EmilyBeJordan.

John Waters: ‘A new kind of anarchy is going to happen next’

The Hairspray director is famed for his boundary-trashing B-movies but he hopes Trump’s presidency will inspire the next wave of punk-rock film-makers

Filmmaker, artist and writer John Waters. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

John Waters, the iconic director famously known as the Pope of Trash or the Prince of Puke, has never been one to shy away from a spectacle. When we meet in London’s West End, where he’s recovering from seeing both parts of the Harry Potter play (he’s not a fan himself, he says, but he went with a friend), he’s in a bright purple suit, that famous pencil-thin moustache still present, as it has been since he was a teenager. “I dressed just for you,” he purrs. He’s 70 now and has been in the business for six decades.

Among the many outrageous moments in his movies, his legacy will always be the infamous ending of his 1972 classic Pink Flamingos, which sees Divine – his friend and, until his death in 1988, his regular star – devouring a dog turd on camera. Waters remains as cheerfully provocative as ever but, in the aftermath of the US election, even he is wrestling with how to tell new jokes.

“I’m struggling to think of something funny to say, as all comedians are,” he admits. “I hate liberals who say: ‘I’m leaving the country.’ Oh, like it’s going to matter. You’re not that important, go ahead. But the only thing I can think that’s positive is that a new kind of anarchy is going to happen next.”

Waters has long been associated with a countercultural spirit. His early films in particular usually focused on gangs of outlaws marauding around his home town of Baltimore causing merry criminal chaos. But the re-release of one of his earliest feature films, 1970’s Multiple Maniacs, feels particularly prescient today, offering a snapshot of a time in which the US was in the midst of a wave of domestic terrorist attacks, student uprisings and protests. “You forget, there were skyjackings every day,” he recalls.

Multiple Maniacs was made on a $5,000 budget, a loan from Waters’s father, and it was the only one of his movies that his mother never saw. You can see why: its wild, sprawling plot, if you can call it that, involves the lawless adventures of an acting troupe of hippies and culminates in Divine being raped by a giant lobster. At 100% approval, it is Waters’s highest-rating film on Rotten Tomatoes. “When I look at it today, it’s like: ‘What were you thinking?’” he laughs. “I will be the first to say that it is ridiculous.”

Ridiculous it may be – by his own admission “the camerawork looks terrible”, and when people forgot their lines, he just kept rolling – but, for all of its chaos, it’s a surprisingly familiar and timely picture of growing activism, anti-establishment sentiment and youth rebellion. The film was shot towards the end of 1969, the most radical year in the 20th century, Waters reckons. “It was right before everything ended. Woodstock, Altamont, the Manson murders. It was a movie to comically go against the hippy values.”

Dreamland regulars Mink Stole (left) and Divine in Multiple Maniacs.
Dreamland regulars Mink Stole (left) and Divine in Multiple Maniacs. Photograph: Janus Films

In Multiple Maniacs, the hippies are part of a travelling roadshow called Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversion. Human exhibits include a gerontophile, a woman with hairy armpits, and “two actual queers, kissing each other”. Early in the story, the gang kidnap the Cavalcade’s “straight” audience, tie them up and forcibly inject them with drugs. Waters recalls one screening where this went down particularly well.

“The first time we had the premiere of the restored version was at the Provincetown film festival and this guy came over and said: ‘Acid must have been pretty good back then.’ And it was! People I know did shoot up acid. Even I never did that. Shooting up acid is really radical.” I didn’t know you could. “Oh yeah. You pull it right out of you at the height of the trip. Talk about a rush. My mother always said: ‘Don’t tell young people that stuff.’ And now I’m telling the Guardian!” He looks delighted.

Waters says he has watched Multiple Maniacs with young people after its recent restoration and it still resonates. “I’m not saying it hasn’t dated; it’s dated in way that it might be more appalling today than it was then. It was a punk rock movie. I look back on it now and think: ‘Oh my God, all this stuff about killing cops – not even the most radical group would say anything like that today.’ And you forget, in the 60s, ‘Off The Pig’ was a common slogan on a march, which is shocking today to look back on.”

John Waters in London, January 2017.
John Waters in London, January 2017. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

However, he feels that the humour of radical groups from that era, such as the Weathermen, is the key to finding a new radicalism today. “These are political activists who use humour as terrorism to mortify your opponent. We need that again, and with Trump we’ll probably get it. He’d be an easy person to do it to because he has a short fuse.”

Waters says you could still have a Cavalcade of Perversion. What would be in it? “See transgenders in the bathroom! Or see the President of America! I hate reality television. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a reality show, ever, and now we have one.” He never watched The Apprentice? “Never. No! I hated him before. I hate a hopper. A hair-hopper is someone who pretends they’re rich, who really wasn’t brought up very wealthy but now tries to brag that they’re rich, and they spend too much time on their hair.”

The late Edith Massey maker her debut in Multiple Maniacs.
The late Edith Massey maker her debut in Multiple Maniacs. Photograph: Lawrence Irvin/Janus Films

He doesn’t watch television himself (he reads instead, though says: “I know I’m missing something good”) and yet Waters has had a number of TV development deals in the works. Sadly for fans, none have yet come to fruition and he hasn’t made a feature film since 2004’s A Dirty Shame because it didn’t make enough money. “That’s fair, that’s what Hollywood’s about,” he shrugs.

Has he thought about crowdfunding? He looks mortified. “I own three homes. Am I gonna go out and say: ‘Send me $10?’” Well, rich people often do. “I’m against that. I have too much money to panhandle. They all want you to make a movie for under a million dollars, which I don’t want to. I don’t want to be a faux radical film-maker at 70. I did that. I don’t need to do it again. I can make a movie for $5m, which used to be a routinely low, independent movie, but there’s no such thing as that any more.” But, he says, “I’d make a movie again if they said yes.”

In 1988, Waters had a bona fide hit with Hairspray; it has since spawned so many offshoots that it’s practically an industry of its own. “They change it each time, and that’s why it works each time, hopefully,” he says. “As long as they don’t make a new version exactly like what came before, and don’t change it. That’s when it will stop.” There was the John Travolta-starring 2007 Hollywood remake; a hugely successful stage musical; and a recent live television adaptation in the US, on NBC. But a more surprising part of his legacy has come in the form of an inspirational quote, which has found its way on to posters, memes, T-shirts, mugs and even tapestries: “If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.”

“It did catch on!” he laughs. He says he’s seen it everywhere. “At the Strand bookshop in New York, there’s an entire display of it! I don’t mind that they did it. Sort of I did. They censored it! They don’t say fuck!” The key letters are starred out. “That’s what infuriated me!” He mentions that a friend of his, the drag queen Lady Bunny, called him out on its veracity. “She said: ‘I thought he [Waters] liked criminals?’ I believe in my own words, but maybe I don’t always practise what I preach.” He laughs again, and offers up a sequel. “Basically, if they’re cute enough, who’s looking at the library?”

Multiple Maniacs is in UK cinemas from Friday 17 February and available to buy on Blu-ray from Monday 20 March

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/feb/13/john-waters-on-multiple-maniacs-reissue

Why do conservatives want the government to defund the arts?

The cuts are largely driven by an ideology to shrink the federal government and decentralize power

Why do conservatives want the government to defund the arts?
Vinila Dasgupta retouches her art during India Art Fair in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. The four day art fair brings together a number of modern and contemporary artists to present their works. ((Credit: AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal))
This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Recent reports indicate that Trump administration officials have circulated plans to defund the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), putting this agency on the chopping block – again.

Conservatives have sought to eliminate the NEA since the Reagan administration. In the past, arguments were limited to the content of specific state-sponsored works that were deemed offensive or immoral – an offshoot of the culture wars.

Now the cuts are largely driven by an ideology to shrink the federal government and decentralize power. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, argues that government should not use its “coercive power of taxation” to fund arts and humanities programs that are neither “necessary nor prudent.” The federal government, in other words, has no business supporting culture. Period.

But there are two major flaws in conservatives’ latest attack on the NEA: The aim to decentralize the government could end up dealing local communities a major blow, and it ignores the economic contribution of this tiny line item expense.

The relationship between government and the arts

Historically, the relationship between the state and culture is as fundamental as the idea of the state itself. The West, in particular, has witnessed an evolution from royal and religious patronage of the arts to a diverse range of arts funding that includes sales, private donors, foundations, corporations, endowments and the government.

Prior to the formation of the NEA in 1965, the federal government strategically funded cultural projects of national interest. For example, the Commerce Department subsidized the film industry in the 1920s and helped Walt Disney skirt bankruptcy during World War II. The same could be said for the broad range of New Deal economic relief programs, like the Public Works of Art Project and the Works Progress Administration, which employed artists and cultural workers. The CIA even joined in, funding Abstract Expressionist artists as a cultural counterweight to Soviet Realism during the Cold War.

The NEA came about during the Cold War. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy asserted the political and ideological importance of artists as critical thinkers, provocateurs and powerful contributors to the strength of a democratic society. His attitude was part of a broader bipartisan movement to form a national entity to promote American arts and culture at home and abroad. By 1965, President Johnson took up Kennedy’s legacy, signing the National Arts and Cultural Development Act of 1964 – which established the National Council on the Arts – and the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act of 1965, which established the NEA.

Since its inception, the NEA has weathered criticism from the left and right. The right generally argues state funding for culture shouldn’t be the government’s business, while some on the left have expressed concern about how the funding might come with constraints on creative freedoms. Despite complaints from both sides, the United States has never had a fully articulated, coherent national policy on culture, unless – as historian Michael Kammen suggests – deciding not to have one is, in fact, policy.

Flare-ups in the culture wars

Targeting of the NEA has had more to do with the kind of art the government funded than any discernible impact to the budget. The amount in question – roughly US$148 million – is a drop in the morass of a $3.9 trillion federal budget.

Instead, the arts were a focus of the culture wars that erupted in the 1980s, which often invoked legislative grandstanding for elimination of the NEA. Hot-button NEA-funded pieces included Andre Serrano’s “Immersion (Piss Christ)” (1987), Robert Mapplethorpe’s photo exhibit “The Perfect Moment” (1989) and the case of the “NEA Four,” which involved the rejection of NEA grant applicants by performance artists Karen Finley, Tim Miller, John Fleck and Holly Hughes.

In each case, conservative legislators isolated an artist’s work – connected to NEA funding – that was objectionable due to its sexual or controversial content, such as Serrano’s use of Christian iconography. These artists’ works, then, were used to stoke a public debate about normative values. Artists were the targets, but often museum staff and curators bore the brunt of these assaults. The NEA four were significant because the artists had grants unlawfully rejected based upon standards of decency that were eventually deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1998.

As recently as 2011, former Congressmen John Boehner and Eric Cantor targeted the inclusion of David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly, A Work in Progress” (1986-87) in a Smithsonian exhibition to renew calls to eliminate the NEA.

In all these cases, the NEA had funded artists who either brought attention to the AIDS crisis (Wojnarowicz), invoked religious freedoms (Serrano) or explored feminist and LGBTQ issues (Mapplethorpe and the four performance artists). Controversial artists push the boundaries of what art does, not just what art is; in these cases, the artists were able to powerfully communicate social and political issues that elicited the particular ire of conservatives.

A local impact

But today, it’s not about the art itself. It’s about limiting the scope and size of the federal government. And that ideological push presents real threats to our economy and our communities.

Organizations like the Heritage Foundation fail to take into account that eliminating the NEA actually causes the collapse of a vast network of regionally controlled, state-level arts agencies and local councils. In other words, they won’t simply be defunding a centralized bureaucracy that dictates elite culture from the sequestered halls of Washington, D.C. The NEA is required by law to distribute 40 percent of its budget to arts agencies in all 50 states and six U.S. jurisdictions.

Many communities – such as Princeton, New Jersey, which could lose funding to local cultural institutions like the McCarter Theatre – are anxious about how threats to the NEA will affect their community.

Therein lies the misguided logic of the argument for defunding: It targets the NEA but in effect threatens funding for programs like the Creede Repertory Theatre – which serves rural and underserved communities in states like Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Oklahoma and Arizona – and Appalshop, a community radio station and media center that creates public art installations and multimedia tours in Jenkins, Kentucky to celebrate Appalachian cultural identity.

While the present administration and the conservative movement claim they’re simply trying to save taxpayer dollars, they also ignore the significant economic impacts of the arts. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that the arts and culture industry generated $704.8 billion of economic activity in 2013 and employed nearly five million people. For every dollar of NEA funding, there are seven dollars of funding from other private and public funds. Elimination of the agency endangers this economic vitality.

Ultimately, the Trump administration needs to decide whether artistic and cultural work is important to a thriving economy and democracy.

The Conversation

Aaron D. Knochel, Assistant Professor of Art Education, Pennsylvania State University

http://www.salon.com/2017/02/08/why-do-conservatives-want-the-government-to-defund-the-arts_partner/?source=newsletter

2017 Isn’t ‘1984’—It’s Stranger Than Orwell Imagined

NEWS & POLITICS
Orwell could not have imagined the internet and its role in distributing alternative facts.

Photo Credit: Jason Ilagan / Flickr

A week after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, George Orwell’s “1984” is the best-selling book on Amazon.com.

The hearts of a thousand English teachers must be warmed as people flock to a novel published in 1949 for ways to think about their present moment.

Orwell set his story in Oceania, one of three blocs or mega-states fighting over the globe in 1984. There has been a nuclear exchange, and the blocs seem to have agreed to perpetual conventional war, probably because constant warfare serves their shared interests in domestic control.

Oceania demands total subservience. It is a police state, with helicopters monitoring people’s activities, even watching through their windows. But Orwell emphasizes it is the “ThinkPol,” the Thought Police, who really monitor the “Proles,” the lowest 85 percent of the population outside the party elite. The ThinkPol move invisibly among society seeking out, even encouraging, thoughtcrimes so they can make the perpetrators disappear for reprogramming.

The other main way the party elite, symbolized in the mustached figurehead Big Brother, encourage and police correct thought is through the technology of the Telescreen. These “metal plaques” transmit things like frightening video of enemy armies and of course the wisdom of Big Brother. But the Telescreen can see you, too. During mandatory morning exercise, the Telescreen not only shows a young, wiry trainer leading cardio, it can see if you are keeping up. Telescreens are everywhere: They are in every room of people’s homes. At the office, people use them to do their jobs.

The story revolves around Winston Smith and Julia, who try to resist their government’s overwhelming control over facts. Their act of rebellion? Trying to discover “unofficial” truth about the past, and recording unauthorized information in a diary. Winston works at the colossal Ministry of Truth, on which is emblazoned IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. His job is to erase politically inconvenient data from the public record. A party member falls out of favor? She never existed. Big Brother made a promise he could not fulfill? It never happened.

Because his job calls on him to research old newspapers and other records for the facts he has to “unfact,” Winston is especially adept at “doublethink.” Winston calls it being “conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies… consciously to induce unconsciousness.”

Oceania: The product of Orwell’s experience

Orwell’s setting in “1984” is inspired by the way he foresaw the Cold War – a phrase he coined in 1945 – playing out. He wrote it just a few years after watching Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin carve up the world at the Tehran and Yalta conferences. The book is remarkably prescient about aspects of the Stalinist Soviet Union, East Germany and Maoist China.

Orwell was a socialist. “1984” in part describes his fear that the democratic socialism in which he believed would be hijacked by authoritarian Stalinism. The novel grew out of his sharp observations of his world and the fact that Stalinists tried to kill him.

In 1936, a fascist-supported military coup threatened the democratically elected socialist majority in Spain. Orwell and other committed socialists from around the world, including Ernest Hemingway, volunteered to fight against the rightist rebels. Meanwhile, Hitler lent the rightists his air power while Stalin tried to take over the leftist Republican resistance. When Orwell and other volunteers defied these Stalinists, they moved to crush the opposition. Hunted, Orwell and his wife had to flee for their lives from Spain in 1937.

George Orwell at the BBC.

Back in London during World War II, Orwell saw for himself how a liberal democracy and individuals committed to freedom could find themselves on a path toward Big Brother. He worked for the BBC writing what can only be described as “propaganda” aimed at an Indian audience. What he wrote was not exactly doublethink, but it was news and commentary with a slant to serve a political purpose. Orwell sought to convince Indians that their sons and resources were serving the greater good in the war. Having written things he believed were untrue, he quit the job after two years, disgusted with himself.

Imperialism itself disgusted him. As a young man in the 1920s, Orwell had served as a colonial police officer in Burma. In a distant foreshadowing of Big Brother’s world, Orwell reviled the arbitrary and brutish role he took on in a colonial system. “I hated it bitterly,” he wrote. “In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the gray, cowed faces of the long-term convicts…”

Oceania was a prescient product of a particular biography and particular moment when the Cold War was beginning. Naturally, then, today’s world of “alternative facts” is quite different in ways that Orwell could not have imagined.

Big Brother not required

Orwell described a single-party system in which a tiny core of oligarchs, Oceania’s “inner party,” control all information. This is their chief means of controlling power. In the U.S. today, information is wide open to those who can access the internet, at least 84 percent of Americans. And while the U.S. arguably might be an oligarchy, power exists somewhere in a scrum including the electorate, constitution, the courts, bureaucracies and, inevitably, money. In other words, unlike in Oceania, both information and power are diffuse in 2017 America.

Those who study the decline in standards of evidence and reasoning in the U.S. electorate chiefly blame politicians’ concerted efforts from the 1970s to discredit expertise, degrade trust in Congress and its members, even question the legitimacy of government itself. With those leaders, institutions and expertise delegitimized, the strategy has been to replace them with alternative authorities and realities.

In 2004, a senior White House adviser suggested a reporter belonged to the “reality-based community,” a sort of quaint minority of people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.… That’s not the way the world really works anymore.”

Orwell could not have imagined the internet and its role in distributing alternative facts, nor that people would carry around Telescreens in their pockets in the form of smartphones. There is no Ministry of Truth distributing and policing information, and in a way everyone is Big Brother.

It seems less a situation that people are incapable of seeing through Big Brother’s big lies, than they embrace “alternative facts.” Some researchers have found that when some people begin with a certain worldview – for example, that scientific experts and public officials are untrustworthy – they believe their misperceptions more strongly when given accurate conflicting information. In other words, arguing with facts can backfire. Having already decided what is more essentially true than the facts reported by experts or journalists, they seek confirmation in alternative facts and distribute them themselves via Facebook, no Big Brother required.

In Orwell’s Oceania, there is no freedom to speak facts except those that are official. In 2017 America, at least among many of the powerful minority who selected its president, the more official the fact, the more dubious. For Winston, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.” For this powerful minority, freedom is the freedom to say two plus two make five.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

50 Years Later, Here Are 3 Big Ways the Summer of Love Is Still with Us

CULTURE
The ideals of the Human Be-In remain woven through American culture.

Members of Jefferson Airplane performing at the KFRC Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival in Marin County, California, United States in June, 1967
Photo Credit: Bryan Costales ©2009 Bryan Costales, licensed CC BY-SA 3.0-Bcx.Org: http://www.bcx.org/photos/events/concerts/ffair/?file=KFRCFantasyFair19670603_7464SBCX.jpg, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0; Jefferson Airplane, Marin County, CA, 1967

Born of the simple intention to unite people in the name of connection and love, an event on the polo fields of Golden Gate Park half a century ago sparked a cultural paradigm shift unrivaled in the U.S. since World War II. But this time it was the antithesis to war that would reshape America: the Summer of Love.

The impetus for that fateful summer was called the Human Be-In, in a nod to the peaceful sit-ins waged by university students in the preceding years against racial segregation. In the years surrounding the Summer of Love, the frigid prospect of nuclear war loomed, minorities and women were rising up against myriad oppressions and the government was cracking down on mind-altering substances like LSD and cannabis. The Summer of Love and its values of free expression, love, peace, activism, and psychedelic exploration of consciousness were the backlash.

The early acid-rock sounds of Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Co. and others mixed with the words of boundary-pushing poets and psychedelic pioneers to gather 75,000 or so young people in the park. They spilled out into the five-block radius of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood with fresh smells, sounds and ideals that came to shape the era’s iconography.

Bill McCarthy, founder of the Unity Foundation, co-produced a 50-year anniversary celebration of the Be-In in San Francisco this week.

“It’s important that we celebrate the past, celebrate the victories, triumphs and challenges of the past, but at the same time look at what’s happening today,” he said. “We’re saying yes, in 1967 this all happened, so let’s rededicate ourselves to that. But let’s also see what’s happening today that can build community, build empathy with people all over the world that are struggling.”

He said given the current political climate, with Trump’s impending inauguration and all that’s bound to come with it, there is more reason than ever to “activate ourselves.” He said when you take the “long view” from 1967 to now, it’s obvious that we’re moving forward.

“The values we treasure and movements we created are still stronger than they ever have been,” he said. “When there’s darkness in the world, the thing that feeds darkness is fear. The last thing we should do right now is be fearful.”

Fifty years since the Be-In, as the digital age re-molds the economy, values and skylines of San Francisco and beyond, the ideals of the Human Be-In remain woven through our culture in ways we rarely pause to acknowledge. From the sounds of activism to the shape of companies to that box of free stuff out on the corner, many hippie dreams are alive and well in 2017.

Annie Oak, founder of the Women’s Visionary Congress, a nonprofit dedicated to exploring altered states of consciousness, says the prevalence of psychedelics in the 1960s and ’70s is directly related to the ideas put forth by young people at the time.

“These substances allowed people to think way outside the box and also question social systems,” she said. “The hippies here really put forward a liberal political consciousness and humanist values that impacted society.”

Here are three modern cultural shifts that have their roots in the psychedelic Summer of Love.

1. Collectivism, from communal living to open-source software. 

Annie Oak says communal living, which is everywhere now, was born in the Summer of Love. So, she says, are collectivist projects like the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, which is still in operation, offering medical treatment free of charge.

“These ideas of collectivism really launched larger ideas like the open-source software movement and creative commerce,” she notes. “These are ideas that are commonplace now.”

Michael Gosney has produced Digital Be-Ins over the years at Be-In anniversaries to pay homage to the initial Be-In of ’67 and to look to the future. He was involved in early desktop publishing and digital media in San Francisco in the late ’80s. It was the dawn of personal computers, and his magazine was covering early Macintosh creativity. He describes the publication as a “nexus of artists and tech people coming together.”

Between ’85 and ’92 he observed that psychedelics—which made their debut in modern culture during the Summer of Love—heavily influenced the creation of digital media. He says the software programmers who worked on digital music, animation, photography and video were influenced by psychedelics.

“I noticed the preponderance of psychedelic influence in the programming community with the engineers that were inventing these new tools,” he said. “Psychedelic influence was extremely powerful, and really that’s how people were seeing the vision of digital networks and so forth. It very much came out of the influence of psychedelics.”

2. Activism and alternative media.

The mainstream newspapers in 1967 were not about to promote the Be-In event. An underground, independent zine called the Oracle, produced for free in Haight-Ashbury, was the first to cover what would become the catalyst for the hippie days and cultural revolution.

“The Oracle was the first to write about the Be-In, so it helped launch the alternative press,” Annie Oak of WVC says. “And there were also underground radio stations that helped promote the events, so the whole alternative media movement really was moved along by the Be-In and the Summer of Love.”

Oak notes that the environmental movement was also taking place in Haight-Ashbury at the time. The local community organized in the ’60s against a proposed freeway project that would run through the panhandle portion of Golden Gate park, connecting Golden Gate Bridge with the Peninsula. The community organized in protest on the same polo grounds where the initial Be-In took place, and their uprising eventually killed the freeway project. This was in 1964, but Oak says the power of community organizing was a key motif of the ’67 Be-In and its cultural imprints.

“The freeway was one of the important predecessors of the Be-In activism and gathering that took place also in the polo grounds three years later, and the later protests against the war,” she said. “Timothy Leary kind of set the tone with his famous phrase, turn on, tune in, drop out, which kind of set the tone for the Be-In. But what really happened here is people kind of turned on to activism, and then took over. They took over big sections of our culture and changed it in positive ways.”

Oak notes the irony that because of the proposed freeway project, which would have displaced many residents, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood harbored lower-income residents like students and minorities. As the years passed following the Summer of Love, the neighborhood became an iconic tourist destination. Today, as wealthy techies have been drawn to the city for its iconic allure, lower-income residents are priced out.

“Haight-Ashbury sort of personified the transition between the beat generation—the poets and jazz hipsters that were embracing a lot of the black jazz culture—and the hippies, who then kind of came into what was then a black neighborhood,” Oak says. “And, to some degree, later that movement ironically gentrified the neighborhood, and a lot of the black community then left. It was a very complex form of gentrification, and that gentrification is still happening.”

Bill McCarthy of Unity Foundation said in planning the Be-In anniversary this year he had a conversation with author and historian Dennis McNally about how the mainstream media of the time co-opted the Summer of Love.

“[McNally] was saying… the media created the hippie and created this—how we should look at the culture, and that was part of the downfall,” McCarthy said. “And to that I said, well, Dennis, the beautiful thing now is we can create our own media. We’re not saddled by ABC, NBC, CBS, whatever anymore. We have our own media vehicles.”

3. Cannabis legalization and psychedelic science are influencing mainstream medicine.

Two years prior to the Summer of Love, the psychedelic beloved by many young people who associated LSD with spiritual enlightenment and creative expression was criminalized, like cannabis before it. Retaliating against the Summer of Love and the progressive concepts it launched, President Richard Nixon waged the racist, violent (and ultimately failed) war on drugs that vilified psychedelics and cannabis in the public eye for decades.

Cannabis and most psychedelics remain federally illegal to this day, though the pendulum is starting to swing back. Eight U.S. states have legalized weed for adult use, and this decade the first U.S. government-approved human trials assessing psychedelics in tandem with psychotherapy treatment are showing overwhelmingly positive results. Most of the studies are sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a nonprofit group founded by Rick Doblin in 1986.

Doblin said the Summer of Love set society on a path toward important cultural shifts.

“Since the iconic Summer of Love, 50 years ago, marijuana has gone from being a heavily demonized drug used by rebellious youth to a medicine, with one of the largest growing demographics being elderly people,” he said. “Psychedelics now are being investigated as tools used in scientific research for therapeutic uses, a catalyst of spirituality, art and creativity, acceptance of death and we are now facing their legitimization and acceptance as medical tools.”

In addition, MAPS is conducting studies of MDMA’s potential to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, researching the use of ibogaine for opiate addiction and “implementing ayahuasca research for PTSD and broadening psychedelic harm reduction outreach for more widespread acceptance into our culture,” Doblin said. Similar to the path of cannabis in culture, he predicts psychedelics will first be accepted medicinally, then for their broadened spiritual and cultural uses.

“One day people will take for granted that psychedelics are legal, are highly prized, and help people make positive contributions to society,” he said.

April M. Short is a yoga teacher and writer who previously worked as AlterNet’s drugs and health editor. She currently works part-time for AlterNet, and freelances for a number of publications nationwide. 

http://www.alternet.org/culture/50-years-later-here-are-3-big-ways-summer-love-still-us?akid=15118.265072.82O0Sv&rd=1&src=newsletter1070698&t=14