Thursday, July 22, 2004

You've got the right to remain silent 

When preciousness is in the air, things often happen in twos. And so, only a few days apart, we are privileged to witness courageous defences of freedom of speech by an aging British pop star, and a prematurely aging American comedian, the latter in support of a definitely aged songstress has-been.

First off,
Elton John comes out (no pun intended) swinging against the oppressive political climate that is chilling artistic expression in the United States:

"Sir Elton John has hit out at the 'bullying tactics' used by the US government to stop artistic dissent. The multi-millionaire singer said entertainers who criticised the Bush administration or its policy on the Iraq war risked damage to their careers. 'There's an atmosphere of fear in America right now that is deadly,' he said.

" 'Everyone is too career-conscious. They're all too scared... Things have changed. I don't know if there's been a time when the fear factor played such an important role in America since McCarthyism in the 1950s, as it does now'."
Then Michael Moore comes out in support of Linda Ronstadt after her premature exit from a Las Vegas stage:

"What country do you live in? Last time I checked, Las Vegas is still in the United States. And in the United States, we have something called "The First Amendment." This constitutional right gives everyone here the right to say whatever they want to say. All Americans hold this right as sacred. Many of our young people put on a uniform and risk their lives to defend it. My film is all about asking the questions that should have been asked before those brave soldiers were sent into harms way."
That is, after all, why we pay our entertainers for - their valuable political commentary and insightful constitutional law opinions. As everyone has by now noted, contrary to Messrs John and Moore, the First Amendment guarantees freedom of expression free from government interference, not the audience preferences. And contrary to Mr (Sir) Elton, the US government hasn't been doing anything to stop artistic dissent, unless John thinks that Fred from Louisville, Kentucky, who's called his local radio station to ask that Dixie Chicks be pulled from the playing list was really George W talking in a really really low voice from a public phone next to the White House.

It's of course preposterous to say that artistic dissent is being crushed in the United States at the same time as "Fahrenheit 9/11" is breaking box office records and the Hollywood's A-list roll out red carpet for John Kerry. Yes, there are many people in America who hate Moore, the Chicks, and Whoopi Goldberg, who aren't buying their products and are trying to persuade others to do likewise. This isn't censorship; it's free market.

But that's not good enough for John and Moore - in the world of our artistic betters, there are the few enlightened ones (the artists) and there are the masses (us); John and Moore and Co have the freedom to speak, we have the obligation to listen. This is the MTV Constitutional Theory 101.

In the real world, however, there are no prematurely ended careers so far, no blacklists, no gulags for the Billboard dissidents. There's only criticism, but the people who so often dish it out to others don't feel like taking it themselves. For our enlightened stars freedom is a one way street.

But of course it ain't work like that. Art is art and politics is politics. Politicians who take certain positions face the judgment of the electorate; journalists and commentators are also accountable to their audiences. Both groups know they have the freedom to say whatever they want; both groups also (largely) understand that they have to take the consequences. Why the hell shouldn't entertainers when they stray into the world of politics? Call it democracy, call it liberty, call it free market, but unless you want to clearly demonstrate your stupidity and pretentiousness, don't call it stifling dissent and wrecking the Constitution.

The artists are of course so happy to defend freedom of speech because they are so reluctant to defend anything else. It's self-serving (imagine if our soldiers chose only to defend the right to bear arms), it's deceptive (you can think yourself a hero because you're taking on the mighty oppressive government, whereas in reality you're only taking on some poor schmucks from Iowa), it's easy (because you can pretend that freedom of speech floats somewhere in aether, unanchored in time and space, instead of being a product of institutions and processes that you otherwise despise), it's also convenient (while blame poor record sales on yourself making shit music when you can blame "political backlash" instead?). Last but not least, it's also cathartic; success brings money, money brings guilt, so to reassure themselves that it's not all about just the simple materialistic pursuit, a few well chosen political crusades will turn every drug-taking, alcoholic, obscenely extravagant bore into a prophet, a martyr and a poet - it will demonstrate to the wide world that they are, after all, better than crude businessmen, better than the rest of us. Which means we can expect a lot more Sir Eltons and Michael Moores jumping on their high horses in the future.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?