conservatives and libertarians hope to make advances in the culture war,
they need to devote more private resources to arts funding; to establish
a grant-making infrastructure to fund and connect like-minded writers, actors,
musicians, and filmmakers.
Conservatives ignore the arts at their peril. No matter who is elected
to steer the ship of state, a captain can only push so far against the cultural
currents, which flow in the direction of whoever writes our shared stories.
Popular prejudices, shaped by culture, circumscribe an elected official's
policies. A politician can only cut taxes so much if the beneficiaries
are perceived as snotty bluebloods. Popular entertainment spins our
hopes and dreams and nightmares, our heroes and villains. It is the
prism through which the populace interprets all it sees.
In 2000, without knowing anything about him, many voters recoiled upon seeing
Bush. In their subconscious lurked thousands of film & TV images
of drunken fratboy, Southern-accented, Bible-thumping, country-club Republican
bigots. Stereotypes as false as any other -- but dry facts and statistics
are a poor defense against the vague "gut feelings" created by media stereotypes.
(For more on the subject of TV stereotypes, see Ben Stein's excellent 1979
book, The View From Sunset Boulevard.)
Conservatives have long complained about their portrayal in the media and
the lack of conservative artists, but their only solution seems to be to
initiate boycotts. They don't realize that Hollywood largely regards
conservative consumers as a nonviable market, irrelevant to their business
plans. (The Dixie Chicks remained unscathed.) Even were it otherwise,
Hollywood won't relent to boycotts by "bigots," which is how conservatives
Besides which, boycotts are a loser's game. Americans demand entertainment,
and you can't fight something with nothing. The best way to get someone
to stop buying X is not to boycott X, but to offer a more attractive Y.
But how to develop a more attractive Y?
Conservatives and libertarians expect their artists to be supported by the
market, but that attitude ill serves the creation of a conservative or libertarian
culture. Artists must be nurtured as they master their craft. Supporting
artists before they create something marketable isn't necessary, but it helps.
Money is the mothers milk of both politics and future artists. Liberals
understand this, and have built an arts funding infrastructure composed of
private foundations, government arts councils, the small press, and university
presses. They provide a safety net to artists via teaching posts, fellowships,
and nonprofit foundation jobs.
Conservatives and libertarians have influenced the culture via blogs, talk
radio, and opinion journals, but they still fall short in the arts, especially
in music and film. A privately-financed, arts funding infrastructure
It should have three goals: Identify, Assist, Integrate.
(1) Identify like-minded artists. Seek them via the internet.
Place notices on film school bulletin boards, music clubs, organizational
(2) Assist however possible. Ask every artist: "How can we help?"
Networking and promotion is cheap. If a foundation can't fund
an entire project, it might offer seed money, matching funds, completion
funds, something to move projects to "the next level." Maybe a band
has recorded a tape, but needs a $1000 to press some CDs. Or a play
is set to go, but can use a $100 for advertising.
(3) No artist wants to remain in a political ghetto. The goal
should be to integrate these artists into the mainstream (as is done with
ethnic minorities), such as by promoting them on TV and radio, and at film
festivals, etc. The goal should be to help artists create, build a
career, and then, hopefully, they'll "give back" to those who helped.
Such a foundation should not be ideologically narrow (demanding a specific
message for its grant money), nor look over the shoulders of artists like
a Stalinist commissar. That would stifle individual creativity.
Rather, once an artist has been approved for funding, the foundation must
let go so that "a 100 flowers may bloom." Some disappointing work will
result, but that is the nature of freedom, the nature of art. You must
allow for some "bad investments" so the good ones will grow.
The money is there. William Bennett's gambling losses alone could have
provided much conservative arts funding. Yes, yes, I agree, Bennett's
private property is his to fritter away however he pleases. Even so,
what a waste... (Ironically, while wealthier conservative groups largely
ignore the arts -- apart from boycotting them -- I know one student filmmaker
who received a small completion grant from the libertarian Institute for
Regrettably, the idea of offering grant money ("money for nothing") to artists,
and afterward to allow artists to follow their own visions (no accountability)
goes against the instincts of both conservatives and libertarians.
Plus, boycotts, although creating nothing (and you can't fight something
with nothing), are more fun for bloggers and webzines, and bring higher ratings
for radio and cable TV pundits.
Years from now, I expect conservatives will still be organizing new boycotts,
even as the Dixie Chicks and Susan Sarandon complete new projects.
Thomas M. Sipos's satirical novels include Manhattan Sharks and Vampire Nation. His website is CommunistVampires.com.
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