One of our Founding Fathers, John Adams, once wrote in a letter to his wife,
I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.
The natural culmination of America’s evolution, for Adams, was the study of the arts, the creative expression that reflects our own humanity. America has fallen woefully short of his hopes.
Often, Tea Partiers drum on about the Founding Fathers and their Intent and so on and so forth. They don’t spend much time talking about the importance of the arts, though.
So it is with Lackawanna County Comissioner Laureen Cummings. Recently, she decided to attack the Scranton Fringe Festival. For those who don’t know what the Fringe is, you’re missing out. The Fringe is a collection of nearly every kind of performing art that you can imagine. You want to see original plays by local artists? Children’s shows? Drama? Comedy and improv? The Fringe has got it. It showcases all kinds of talent, near and far. My favorite aspect of it is how home-grown the performances and performers are. People who complain that there is nothing to do in Scranton are really out of the loop. We are home to a bevvy of talented people. Every show is affordable, and so very many of them are wonderful. Whatever your tastes, the Fringe has something for you.
Which is why it’s so upsetting to see such a prominent and powerful local politician take issue with giving the Scranton Fringe Festival a grant. What’s her qualm, exactly? Well, she has taken on the role of morality police, saying that the county should not fund arts programs that involve Rated R or PG13 programming.
No wonder she is all about cutting library funding. People use the F-Word in books sometimes! My Lordy-loo. One of my favorite authors is Kurt Vonnegut, saw his book, Slaughterhouse-Five, burned by a School Board in the 1970s. In America. A book burning. He responded to them by saying,
If you were to bother to read my books, to behave as educated persons would, you would learn that they are not sexy, and do not argue in favor of wildness of any kind. They beg that people be kinder and more responsible than they often are. It is true that some of the characters speak coarsely. That is because people speak coarsely in real life. Especially soldiers and hardworking men speak coarsely, and even our most sheltered children know that. And we all know, too, that those words really don’t damage children much. They didn’t damage us when we were young. It was evil deeds and lying that hurt us.
So what I say to Ms. Cummings is that she should behave as educated persons would and attend the shows she condemns. Reality is rated R. Hell, our President is rated R (or NC-17, at this point), and she’s a fervent supporter of his.
To her credit, she’s not afraid to engage critics. I’m the political polar opposite of her and we have (gasp) engaged in civil discourse. I hope she takes the time to think about the consequences of her position.
We live in a nation that increasingly attacks the arts and free expression. If we don’t have creative outlets, places to explore ideas and feeling and meaning, we are robots. I suspect the powers that be would prefer this, hence cut after cut after cut to the arts in schools and communities. Hence the lowest national endowment for the arts of any civilized nation on earth.
What is strange to me is the amount of money in question: $2,400. That’s a pittance. The amount the Scranton Fringe Festival receives should have an extra zero at the end, as far as I’m concerned. What’s beyond strange and downright concerning is that Cummings stated she would vote against library funding that involved rated-R content. Does she knows the implications of such a statement? Rather than burning Slaughterhouse-Five, she’s going to starve the system that houses it and encourages its consumption. Far more sinister. Probably more effective, too.
Vonnegut ended his letter by saying this:
If you and your board are now determined to show that you in fact have wisdom and maturity when you exercise your powers over the education of your young, then you should acknowledge that it was a rotten lesson you taught young people in a free society when you denounced and then burned books–books you hadn’t even read. You should also resolve to expose your children to all sorts of opinions and information, in order that they will be better equipped to make decisions and to survive.
I would hope that in Laureen heeds this wisdom and visits these shows she condemns, offering an informed opinion on the matter, rather than condemning an excellent artistic and economic engine in the city.
See you at the Fringe in 2018!