The Friday Morning Listen: Elvis Costello – All This Useless Beauty (1996)

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by Mark Saleski

This is not about politics.

Though I do try to keep a safe distance from it, the volume level of that particular circus has risen to something beyond deafening. Pick a topic and there is no end to the positions people can take…and the “facts” they can chose to ignore and/or redefine when it suits them.

A recent hot topic has been government funding of National Public Radio and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I won’t comment on the political “arguments,” mostly because it’s a waste of my time (yours too). The “debates” (I really hate to do all of this double-quoting, but if you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that words such as debate and discourse have been covered in a thick layer of InternetSpittle™, rendering them useless) have centered on topics such as bias, strained budgets, and the appropriate role of government.

Sadly, most of the arguments fail to rise above the level of the following comment, found on a Midwestern newspaper site:

It’s all very simple. We can’t afford to spend money to support people/companies who are opposed to most of America. It is obvious that NPR is another worthless progressive organization that would be better supported by people like the author of this article. Just like the national endowment of the arts (so called) who take government money to support people who insult Christians and Jews. Robert A. Heinlein said it best in one of his books ” A government supported artist is an incompent[sic] whore.” The money spent there is better spent elsewhere, like paying down the national debt.

Too many of the defenses of government-supported art try to appeal to the practical: that the arts generate jobs, that the rural patrons will be hurt (if funding is removed), etc.

I say “too many” because the whole approach is wrong. While government backing of the arts can and does keep people employed (quite impressive is the list of things produced by government patronage throughout the history of art), I don’t want that to be the driving force behind the funding. No, I see the arts as providing many functions, from buffer against the blandness inherent in commercial monoculture to a source of inspiration and education. The arts make our lives better, directly and indirectly. I like the idea that the whole of our society can be behind this, even if they do not agree with all of the viewpoints espoused.

The image at the top of this piece is a photo of an artwork made by a friend of mine. The words came from a letter written by her great-grandmother to her mother, when the artist was a baby. Would that work of art be any less meaningful if it came into being with a little help from all of us?

As to the fashionable argument — Why should my tax dollars be spent on something with which I do not agree? — I will leave with an example: A man is walking down the street in Baghdad. An air strike on local insurgents begins. A piece of shrapnel hits the man in the head, leaving the dirt strewn with gray matter and blood. My tax dollars paid for that. So did yours.

This is not about politics.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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