Thursday, March 27, 2003

Funding Your Enemies
By Alexander Marriott
UNLV Rebel Yell: April 3, 2003

Much has been made lately of artists commenting on world events, whether or not they should do so, and furthermore, what the response of consumers ought to be. This is not a free speech issue, as some of the artists and those in the media have suggested. It is a matter of whether you, the consumer, care to prop up your own enemies.

To reiterate, this is not a free speech issue at all. The first amendment is in place to protect you from the government censoring what you say, not to prevent people from hiring or firing you based on your ideas, or buying your products based on what you choose to utter. If the local shop owner is a known racist then you should, if you have any shred of decency, not shop at his store. The assertion that this is a free speech issue is only a red herring to distract you from the real problem at hand. Unfortunately, the first amendment is thrown around as much as “racism” and “Nazi” in terms of trying to win an argument by placing your opponent on untenable ground.

Should artists comment on domestic or international affairs for public consumption? No, as it poisons the water in terms of their market of consumers. There is no quicker way to reduce sales than to reduce the number of people willing to purchase your art. However, this does not mean that they have no right to say things; it just means they are putting in peril the success of any future projects.

How should consumers respond to these comments then? Let us consider the options the consumer has and what the implications of each choice will be.

You could ignore all political comments and buy away. This is probably what most people do, but what are the ramifications of such an attitude? Let’s assume that Joe is a liberal who relies on steel tariffs to keep his job and he knows that Ben Stein is a conservative who opposes steel tariffs. But Joe has committed to ignore political comments and so he watches “Win Ben Stein’s Money” every week. Now in the scheme of ratings, one viewer isn’t a whole lot, but is it something. So let’s assume that because the ratings for the show are high enough, Comedy Central doesn’t cancel it and keeps paying Ben Stein to do the show. Ben Stein in turn gives out donations to the Hoover Institution, the CATO Institute, and other conservative/libertarian organizations that are fighting to reduce and eliminate trade tariffs. Joe is in effect sanctioning his own demise as a steel worker, especially if he works for a place like US Steel.

Of course this works just as well the other way around, imagine that instead of Ben Stein, it’s Oprah. Oprah will of course donate vast sums of money to the Bill Clinton Presidential Library, Democratic candidates on all levels, the ACLU, and many other liberal causes. In this respect the conservative Joe is sanctioning the theft of his money and the destruction of his liberty.

The other option is for you to reject Joe’s way of doing things and patron only those people who don’t speak out at all or those whom you agree with. Of course you will have to gauge the threat of each artist according to your own values, but one would think that the “ignore what they say” option would be quite unsettling for anyone who cares about what they believe in.

This stance actually becomes confusing for a person like me, who agrees with conservatives most of the time, but is also an atheist. Can I live with the knowledge that when I see a Mel Gibson movie some of the money I’m throwing towards future Gibson paychecks will go to a Church and other religious causes, including anti-abortion organizations?

This is obviously a very tough dilemma, but coming by the answer is actually easier that it may seem. What is the general spirit that permeates most Gibson films? Is it religious mysticism? No, decidedly not. I don’t remember God ever coming in to save Riggs and Murtaugh or any miracles helping William Wallace or Benjamin Martin. It was the characters in those movies that acted heroically, and through their own efforts did what was right and moral. It is this spirit and sense of life, permeating most of Gibson’s films, which causes me to want to see them, in spite of his religious views.

This may seem like too much work for just seeing a movie, but when the implications mean helping to award millions to these people then you must, if you hold anything as a value at all, consider their statements and actions if they are publicly known. To not do so would be to willing contribute to those who are working against you. If this is your goal then why not cut out the middleman and just contribute $100 to candidates you oppose in the next election?

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