Here are a couple of truisms (for me anyway):
- Politicians should never comment on art that’s anything but decorative, old, and uncontroversial.
- When politicians of both parties agree about anything (but especially about art), they’re wrong.
Both of these prejudices of mine jumped out strongly when I read some of the comments by politicians of both parties protesting the Met’s current staging of John Adams’ 1991 opera The Death of Klinghoffer.
In a perfectly bipartisan stand against the opera, Rudy Giuliani (Republican ex-Mayor) and U.S. Representatives Peter King (R-NY), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and Eliot Engel (D-NY), all spoke at a rally outside Lincoln Center protesting the opening performance on October 20.
I have a knee-jerk reaction when I hear tabloid newspapers or religious organizations or pandering politicians calling for the suppression of any artist whether it’s Andres Serrano or 2 Live Crew or Entartete Kunst, but this latest particular example of that all-too-common phenomenon had a special resonance for me because my novel Fire Answers Fire has in its later chapters the story of an unproduced (and totally fictional) Ernst Toller play (or opera) also entitled Fire Answers Fire shot down in 1939 by would-be musical collaborators and producers because of its sympathetic portrayal of terrorists (in this case the attackers of the Nazi Hindenburg).
… So Toller had gone ahead without a collaborator and shown the play without music to a producer and old friend, Jude Lear. Despite the English name borrowed from Hardy and Shakespeare, Lear was a recent exile like himself with an even thicker German accent than Toller’s. Lear didn’t even skim halfway through the script before rendering his judgment. “Why don’t you just write a sympathetic play about the kidnapper and killer of the Lindbergh baby? After all, Lindbergh’s a Nazi sympathizer too.”
“That’s different. That’s an attack on a child. On an individual. This is a symbolic striking at power. At a machine. At giant swastikas flying as provocations over American cities.”
“That’s not the way the audience will see it. Lindbergh and the Hindenburg are both innocent victims. Lucky Fucking Lindy could wipe his ass with an American flag and fly a plane around the world bedecked with swastikas and christened the ‘Spirit of Berchtesgarten’ and he’d still get sympathy about the kidnapping of his son. The swastikas on the tail of a Zeppelin don’t mean shit either. The audience members won’t care about the politics. It’s the fiery scene they all remember from the newsreels that’s important. And it’s not the announcer saying ‘Oh, the poor dead Nazis’ they remember. It’s ‘Oh, the humanity!’ they remember. It’s the same on these boards,” he said, sweeping his hand across the floor on which they stood in front of rows of empty red velveteen seats. “People react to people on this stage. Not ideas. Not rallying cries. Not politics. Especially not European politics. Your politics. They want to see themselves reflected in the actors up here, not terrorists fighting foreign wars.” He might as well have said this isn’t 1918 and this isn’t revolutionary Munich. No one will care what you have to write or think anymore. … (from chapter 12, “And Happy Endings With Dead Villains”)