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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Low Culture, High Statism

Sports is culture too:

Governments at all levels in Canada have an easy time providing billions of dollars annually toward artists and their cultural organizations — many of which are just as “professional” as NHL athletes and teams. Similarly, governments often have little or no problem funding concert halls, theatres, art galleries and other bricks-and-mortar venues where cultural events are performed.

The result: Professional ballerinas, musicians, actors, writers and artists routinely ply their trades in places that are paid for by the taxpayer while their professional sporting counterparts are treated in a very different way. There is little sympathy for the multi-million dollar hockey player, as compared with the (figuratively) starving artist.

How did a debate over what constitutes culture become a political, er, footbal? Let's say you are a cultural elitist snob like Publius. You think that hockey and sports are about as exciting, and enlightening, as watching a burping contest. But perhaps you are like the other 99.999% of Canadians who live and breadth hockey, and professional sports in general. Its rather unfair to have other people's tastes - like opera or classical music - subsidized on your dime. In that light David Aspers' call for public funding of sports seems reasonable. If government can subsidize the preferences of the few, why not the fun of the many?

The high arts - both genuine high art and the scores of professional poseurs - have acquired a powerful political lobby over the years. Cloaking themselves as defends of culture, they argue that the market, which is both cruel as well as crude, does not appreciate the finer things in life. Therefore government must subsidize these flowers of civilization, lest they perish amidst a diet of philistine entertainments. It's not that I'm unsympathetic to the barbarians at the cultural gate argument, but running to Leviathan isn't the answer.

The problem with having government play patron is that in the process art becomes political and bureaucratic. Not in the obvious manner of Soviet or Nazi art programs, but in our special democratic Canadian way. As with every dollar government spends, a decision must be made as to whom and how. Why should this artist be funded and not the other? 

In the old aristocratic societies the decision process was straight forward, if Lord Whatnot liked it, the poet, painter or musician got the money. In a democracy the processes must at least seem more democratic, even when the art being funded is a minority taste. The soul of democracy isn't the process of voting, that's just the mechanics, it's the work of committees. When the subject is specialized, it becomes a committee of experts. How do you define an expert? Well either they have a certain degree or relevant experience. In effect they are the recognized elite of whatever they're experting on. 

Since politicians are non-experts, except at playing both ends against the middle, they give money to experts, who will decide how the funds are to be disbursed. This transforms a group of specialists into an entrenched elite, who, as time passes, acquire sweeping power over their respective fields. If the committees have a revolving membership, then today's supplicants might be tomorrow's committee member, and vice versa. Thus committee members are reluctant to be too harsh on others' works, knowing that the brittle egos they offend today, may next year exact revenge. 

In Canada this committee culture has helped breed that uniquely stagnant brand of art know as CanCon. From excremental television programs to ponderous documentaries, no matter how bad it is, as long as it is plausibly Canadian, it seems to get funding. Canada is not, in the Sun Tzu sense, very interesting. We try to keep the wars, famines and massacres to an absolute minimum. This does limit the raw material for great art, but surely we cannot be as dull as the National Film Board makes us out to be. 

Like a command and control economy, command and control art is just as undynamic and uncreative. After a few decades of churning out books and films on aboriginals and fur trappers, the no doubt bored to death Canadian arts committees turned to more daring fare. Unfortunately, like most committees, they couldn't tell genuine originality if they choked on it at cocktail party. 

Supporting transgressive art - the needlessly offensive, practiced by the utterly talentless - was the nearest thing to seeking originality, without having to exercise actual judgment. Why? Because, historically, often truly innovative artistic ideas were regarded as offensive when first shown. Over time people came to understand the value of the new idea, and so it became part of the overall culture. Much of modern art reverses effect for cause. If it offends and shocks, then it must be original. But mere stunts are soon forgotten, and each new stunt requires even greater artifice to sustain attention. It is bad art, or more correctly anti-art, that has been breed and encouraged by a bureaucratic system of patronage. Government art didn't create modern art, but it has done much to entrench it in galleries and universities. Repeating the same mistake with sports or popular culture would be a disaster.  

Posted by Richard Anderson on September 21, 2010 | Permalink


Governments funding art is tricky- as this favours some art and starves out other art. Eletes boost eletes, plebes boost plebes each resents the other and the process of art suffers.
The best funding model is the student loan - loan artists money at favourable rates for their projects - and provide basic marketing assistance. Social vision is a business.

more culture cash spent like it has been distributed to eletes by eletes and coin rolling to the plebes is just a waste. All artists must learn how to get their work out there and properly integrated into the world at large - or admit they are amateurs

Posted by: 419 | 2010-09-21 7:55:57 AM

David Asper is your typical statist businessman. He seems to believe that his core role as the owner of a business is not to create value for shareholders and consumers, but to seek handouts from the government and loot value from taxpayers. He showed incredible skill and acumen when it came to successfully convincing politicians to commit tax dollars to the Human Rights Museum as well as a new stadium for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, both of which have a good chance at being nothing but chronic money-losers.

If he would have applied the same level of skill and acumen to running his Global media empire competently, it might have been a profitable enterprise. Instead, it's pretty much been run into the ground.

With a track record like that, it never ceases to amaze me that any politician would seriously entertain the idea of giving Asper access to the taxpayer's wallet. The ease with which Asper moves in political circles is like a scene out of Atlas Shrugged.

Posted by: Dennis | 2010-09-21 9:18:40 AM

Publius, good post. I agree with you.

For those who think the arts need funding should be willing to donate their own time & money to raise money for the arts. Everyone else should be free to leave their money in their pockets. It will do the arts community a favor in the long run.

419, governemnt funding will always be tricky and so should be eliminated entirely. I am not in favor of it for any reason whatsoever.

Posted by: TM | 2010-09-21 9:23:39 AM

Corporate and cultural rent seeking are equally offensive and are simply the abandonment of the search for a willing buyer for a product that might not otherwise sell. In sports, its rationalized as civic pride in keeping or attracting the team by competing with those jurisdictions that subsidize their facilities. As wealth continues to be destroyed and prevented from creation by leviathan, not only will there less private wealth voluntarily directed toward culture and sports but by necessity, leviathan will increasingly ration such funding as entitlements crowd out all other "non-essentials". Starving artists can create great works and they will be in greater numbers in the grey future.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2010-09-21 12:06:50 PM

There might well be greater numbers of starving people in the grey future: here's hoping more of them are able to make art

Posted by: 419 | 2010-09-21 3:54:31 PM

Dennis is right. I am furious the David Asper woodwinked the government to come up with that Temple of Liberal Propaganda - the Human Rights Museum. It will extol human rights codes and commissions. As a Christian I very dislike human rights codes because it violates my duty as a Christian to discriminate. I must always discriminate between right and wrong, sin and righteousness all the time.
A constitution should only be a document limiting the power of the state and it's boundaries. The Criminal Code is to deal with the rights like the right to life and what not.
I am sick of Asper's asking for government money for his hobby horses.

Posted by: StanleyR | 2010-09-21 5:19:18 PM

Well said,Stanley R.

Posted by: ralph | 2010-09-21 5:26:36 PM

While the attraction of the arts is obvious, no one should diminish the cultural value of sports in all their exciting forms. No doubt the statists and their follow travellers have diminished sport to nothing more than mere bread and circuses for the great Unwashed; but in their dismissal of the cultural value of sport, they reveal their fears and cowardice! Statists are afraid of sport because it praises individual excellence. Say that is not "team spirit"? What is a team but a united force of exemplary individuals, joined in common AND individual purpose? The statist vision of the team is the collectivist herd mired in their mediocrity, whining for the guidance of bureaucratic officialdom to lead them, silently, off a cliff. Statists hate sport because it raises the greater individual and teaches the one and only lesson that far too many have forgotten: Liberty has but one price and that price is blood. What beauty is shedding the blood of the enemies of Liberty, pounding them into the ground, and smashing their venal ideals. The final victory is undeniable: Liberty triumphs and the tyrants are vanquished. Forever. And now, the NFL...

Posted by: AB Patriot | 2010-09-21 6:51:09 PM

The liberal media think this Own the Podium program was a “success”. All this proves is that we are richer than other countries. The more tax dollars for training means more medals. So wealthy countries take home medals because of big money, poor ones who cannot afford to fund their athletes do not. So essentially, tax dollars bought Canada medals. To me this proves the utter pointlessness of it all.
The world's country club nations every four years beat the pants off those from the projects only because daddy bought the medals. So we buy national pride by outspending poorer countries less fortunate than ourselves.
I see no reason why I should be forced to subsidize "our" athletes. I'd be prouder of Canada if it stood as a nation of freedom where people can choose how to spend their own money. The argument for "investing" one person's tax money for another person's pet project is simply flawed.
What if a kid indeed had natural talent to excel in a sport, but was deprived of competing in their local neighbourhood because the income of his or her parents does not stretch far enough due to crippling taxes, coercively extracted from them by statist politicians to fund hobby horses such as Own the Podium.

I would rather have more gold and silver and bronze in my wallet (because a low tax, minimalist government regime) than to have a gold medal around the neck of an athlete who I have never met but who merely happens to be of the same nationality as me. So what does a stack of Olympic medals prove? As a taxpayer it makes me poorer, and I got mathematical proof of that.

Posted by: StanleyR | 2010-09-21 7:27:58 PM

really, what is so wrong by creating lotteries to fund sports and the arts ? That would get the Govt off this case and let the players fund the whole shebang without the taxman getting involved..Low level arts organizations if they want grant money are compelled to staff Bingo games..for many hot house artists, this is the first time they see who real Canadians are, what they value and what they want. Taste what they eat, listen to the music they cherish, smell their honest sweat - walk a mile in their fuzzy slippers.

In short: it will only help artists to briefly vacate the Ivory tower bizz and walk amongst the sacred elephants from where yonder ivory originates.

Posted by: 419 | 2010-09-21 9:05:21 PM

While the bizarre practice of using stolen tax monies (All taxes are theft, btw.) to fund athletes is so obviously a bad idea, it defies defense, a case can be made to prize athletes over all else. Superior skills, excellent genetics, and stirring courage are the examples that will destroy leftists and their psychotic dreams. (And our nightmares) All will be inspired by these athletes and taught that the value is in the individual and not the collective. Put the state to the sword!

Posted by: AB Patriot | 2010-09-21 10:29:05 PM

The usual suspects decrying the use of Tax $$ being used in Sport.

'They'll take my tax $$ from my cold dead hands' is their Rush Limbaugh inspired rallying cry.

Strange then how most of them have no problem funding a bottomless $$ pit known as the USA Nixonian instituted War on Some Drugs.

This Failed War on Some Drugs has resulted in Billion$$ of $$ being drained from Hard working Canadian Taxpayers with nary a positive result after almost 40 years.


Sheesh. It's almost enough to make one want to drink.

However, given all the negatives associated with Alcohol, Cannabis does seem a much more reasonable option.

This Bud's for you Mr. Harper.

'I get high with a little help from my friends.'

Stephen Rapture Harper.

Posted by: jeff franklin | 2010-09-22 6:25:54 AM

a guy chasing some ball or puck in a team setting is of no consequence to society..
a guy manufacturing, importing or distributing some drugs presents a major negative impact on society.

Posted by: 419 | 2010-09-22 9:45:55 AM

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