Jane Alexander ... Populist
By Vin Suprynowicz
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
By now, the path of Hollywood celebrities trekking to Washington
to urge continuing tax subsidies for government-approved "arts" has
Proponents learned long ago that an otherwise boring "funding
hearing" is likely to draw more press attention if Robert Redford or
Meryl Streep put in an appearance. And it presumably never hurts the
reputation of a movie star who makes a living clenching a pretty jaw
in weepy melodramas to be seen putting in a kind word for something
as refined as "the ballet."
Getting in trouble again with the Washington oligarchs, Speaker
of the House Newt Gingrich commented earlier this month on the irony
of wealthy and successful entertainers lobbying for the taxmen to
loot more money from the pockets of the working poor, in order to
"support" arts other than those which those poor folks already choose
to support of their own free will.
"The money's available for the wealthy stars to finance the arts
if they want to, but they should not come here to ask us to raise
taxes on $24,000-a-year workers in order to transfer the money to New
York and California," said the ever-politically-incorrect Mr.
In a response straight out of "Alice in Wonderland," NEA Chairman
and superannuated actress Jane Alexander told a Senate panel April
24: "I feel that is a particularly elitist view, in that this (NEA)
is really an agency that belongs to all the people in America and if
you ask only a few very wealthy individuals, ... you are actually
becoming more elitist."
Have I got this straight? Allowing people free choice to
"subsidize" the arts of their choice -- either by donation or ticket
purchase -- is "elitist," but it's far less "elitist" to allow armed
tax collectors to seize part of the paycheck of some working-class
Joe or Jane in a Tennessee trailer park, and use it to subsidize some
symphony or ballet they'll likely never see?
The question is not whether the stuff supported by PBS and NPR
and the National Endowment for the Arts is "worthwhile," but whether
it is good for the long-term integrity and independence of the arts
to accustom our artists to sucking at the government teat; whether
Article I Section 8 of the Constitution specifically grants the
federal Congress any authority to seize money from the citizenry to
fund such endeavors; and finally whether it is morally right to place
a gun to the head of a member of the working poor, who feeds the kids
cold cereal several nights a week, and say, "We're taking this money
because some white-glove opera-goers need it more than your kids."
The final irony, of course, is that the "arts" themselves suffer
most (in the long run) under a government regime which takes it upon
itself to decide which "arts" shall be funded.
What if a different group were in the political ascendancy -- one
that held that symphonies and the like are artificially-embalmed
remnants of a loathsome Decadent European Culture? What if that
hypothetical new "nativist" government decided to place a punitive
surcharge on symphonies, ballets, and art galleries, in order to
subsidize and encourage the citizenry to attend "more morally worthy,
all-American" truck pulls, demolition derbies, and Country & Western
The precedent will have been set. All that will be left is to
count the votes.
How would a grant proposal to the NEA or PBS or NPR fare, do you
suppose, that sought to fund a documentary investigating the
complicity of Bill and Hillary Clinton in the death of Vince Foster,
or probing the involvement of the United States Navy in the shootdown
of TWA 800? Should our "artists" really be shying away from such
subjects, because "the funding would never be forthcoming?"
Plenty of unsubsidized "arts" are alive and well in America, from
the movies, to popular music, to sculpture in the form of consumer
product design, to the neon magnificence of the Las Vegas Strip.
And such PBS franchises as "Sesame Street" in fact produce vast
profits from after-market merchandising -- profits which could easily
be used to "subsidize" the rest of the network's lineup, if our
geniuses in Washington hadn't decided to give away all such
merchandising profits, free and clear, to the private producers they
If more traditional "arts" are in trouble, we should be asking
how government interventions contribute to their bedridden status.
Current union contracts, for instance, require an entire symphony
orchestra to be paid even if only a string quartet is needed -- with
the result that virtually all symphonic recording has now been driven
It is the utmost in duplicity for those who favor tying "the
arts" to the government's apron strings, to accuse their opponents of
being "against the arts." Anyone wishing to see the final destination
of the road Ms. Alexander and the NEA are now traveling, need only
go look up "Innovation, creativity and political change as promoted
in Soviet Art, 1930-1980."
Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las
Vegas Review-Journal. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at
http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/. The column is syndicated in the
United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box
4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.