I just did something unprecedented, and closed off the comment thread to my post on the threat to La Mama's funding. TN had swum into the purview of the right-thinking wingnuts, and suddenly they were swarming in like Darth Vader's TIE fighters to do a bit of arts bashing. So this in a country where largely the very people and organisations being lined up for the abattoir are too afraid to speak out because they may lose funding, Dance Works gone, Sydney Dance Company, La Mama on notice, and I've lost track of the number of remaining companies also with that noose around their necks. It seems like all of them. The last thing the arts in Australia needs when Australia Council is busy trying to work out how to not fund anyone, and Neil Jillett, Andrew Bolt and assorted other colonial trash are basking in the right-wing anti-arts thuggery of Australia today is for the artists themselves to be too pathetic to even respond. It's in no small way ironic the voice for survival of performing arts so often comes from journalists who aren't concerned with self-protection so that we artists can have our freedom of speech.
The comments included the recommended dose of abuse, personal smear and innuendo (a couple of which I removed) laced with the proud sentiment that they don't know anything about art, but they know what they hate. The argument, which is sufficiently outlined in the comments and elsewhere on the net, is that those pinko / commie / poofter / parasite artists (or is it rich, possibly French, aristocrats?) are stealing money from honest hardworking joes to finance their nefarious, leftoid and morally dubious activities. If only it were not all so predictable and boring. Thanks to those who weighed in or emailed me, and heartening also to see a guest appearance from Joe Orton's alter ego, Edna Welthorpe.
I do wonder why these tender-hearted anti-arts activists are not more exercised by straight-out corporate theft than by the tiny amounts of state money which are given to generate the well-documented benefits - employment, tourism, urban revitalisation, creative thinking, pleasure, even health - that the arts give to the community. Though perhaps the real problem is an uneasy suspicion that someone, somewhere, might be having a good time.
Being a parasitical and lazy arts wanker, and consequently having a 500 page novel to write, I don't have time to deal with politico trolls with irony bypasses. Frankly, my feeling is that if you think that artists aren't worth 0.02 per cent of the GDP - what the Australia Council actually costs - you can go jump. Any more trolling comments will be deleted forthwith. This is a blog for debate about theatre (see above). If any of those commentators are actually interested in theatre (say, if they go to see an actual play) they are welcome to contribute. Those who think that theatre ought not to exist at all can vent their spleen elsewhere.
However, as Lao Tsu recommends, perhaps we should embrace our enemies. A couple of local bloggers, alarmed by the argument here, express concern about the reluctance of the arts community to defend itself. Supernaut has some stern words for artists remaining quiet out of the fear that speaking up may affect their funding:
And at Minktails, young artist Ming-Zhu Hii talks about the necessity of speaking up for what we believe in:
I do not in any way shape or form advocate silence, and I believe that there are many of these such arguments out there that we are showing only our silent backs towards. As artists and supporters of a rich and diverse culture, it is time that we spoke a little more loudly. In general. Perhaps we would not have to waste our breath on defending our totally justified exasperation towards issues such as the threat to La Mama's funding. Perhaps, just perhaps, then, we wouldn't be exasperated in the first place, because the livelihood of the theatre would not be in jeopardy.UPDATE: A wonderful post from Ben at Parachute of a Playwright speculating on why these attacks on the arts are so vitriolic:
As I type, the thought occurs to me that perhaps the reason that the thug-wits go after people who write like Alison, who point out that the arts is not a luxury add-on to a lifestyle but an essential element of coming to understand and to navigate our lives... well they go after such ideas because the ideas remain powerful. The facts are powerful. And there is something so unsettling about the idea that human beings MUST express or we will be walking dead that provokes the zombie attacks.
And Ben also points out the absolute necessity now for all of us who value the arts and what they stand for to speak up against the libels and the smears and the lies, to negotiate our own differences and to create spaces where difference and debate is actually possible:
It's too easy to listen to abusage of the arts and roll my eyes and think that the person doing the abusing won't change, so what point is there? Sometime I wonder whether I've been simply rolling my eyes at concepts I find uncomfortable and don't want to do the work of engaging with. But we have to engage. Of course, we have to pull the plug on anonymous threats and smears, but we mustn't expect them. We have to talk. If there's one thing that characterises the Howard era it's that, under attack, we've become silent even amongst ourselves. Say something. Every voice adds nuance and richness. Let's stop believing, too, that disagreement within our circles implies that we want those who disagree with us destroyed or humiliated. Let's take it as a starting point for finding out more about one another. Enough of the silent simmering - it has only let the scum rise in the public sphere.
Of course, well-known arts connoisseur Andrew Bolt dishes the dirt as well. It seems I am married to the playwright Daniel Keene!!! Deep investigative journalism there - he just has to read the sidebar on this blog. And clearly, my poor pathetic husband needs my support to ensure his future staging at La Mama! Why else would I think the damn place mattered?
And obviously my huge influence as a poet and freelance journalist swings him those stages at Theatre de la Ville, Theatre de la Commune, the Theatre du Rond-Pont, the National Theatres of Bordeaux and Toulouse, the central stage at the Avignon Festival (some of the most prestigious theatres in France, btw) and all those other productions since 2000... which, little does Andrew know, add up to thousands and thousands of tickets sold. (A little googling might have enlightened him, but we all know that Andrew never lets the facts get into the way of a good smear.)
Like they say on Dragonball Z: I'm more powerful than I ever imagined...
And another PS: while we're at it, let's not forget the Sedition laws, which are a crucial part of the mix that is targeting free speech and impacting on artists. The whole Anti-Terror Act, which contains these laws, can be downloaded here. The Australia Law Reform Commission's reports and recommendations on the Sedition laws, rejected by the Attorney General, are available here.
So this in a country where largely the very people and organisations being lined up for the abattoir are too afraid to speak out because they may lose funding, Dance Works gone, Sydney Dance Company, La Mama on notice, and I've lost track of the number of remaining companies also with that noose around their necks. It seems like all of them.
The last thing the arts in Australia needs when Australia Council is busy trying to work out how to not fund anyone, and Neil Jillett, Andrew Bolt and assorted other colonial trash are basking in the right-wing anti-arts thuggery of Australia today is for the artists themselves to be too pathetic to even respond. It's in no small way ironic the voice for survival of performing arts so often comes from journalists who aren't concerned with self-protection so that we artists can have our freedom of speech.