Tonight I’m going to ask Norman Lear a question.
The legendary creator of All in the Family and many other shows is speaking at Kozinski’s Favorite Flicks, a roughly monthly gathering of film buffs in Pasadena at the Appellate Courthouse for the Federal Ninth Circuit. The host Alex Kozinski is the brilliant and once the youngest appellate judge (appointed a generation ago by President Ronald Reagan in his infinite wisdom).
In the current era of political correctness, it is doubtful that either All in the Family or one of Lear’s other hits, Sanford and Son would survive the politically correct thought police. Relying on primogeniture, today’s leftist thugs reflect their precursors of the sixties, and notably their intellectual guru, Herbert Marcuse, who defined the doctrine of “repressive tolerance” to inhibit dialogue judged unsatisfactory and thereby to silence conservatives and libertarians. Thus, the more things change, as we now find on American campuses, the more they stay the same.
Lear long ago, with Jerry Perenchio, had formed T.A.A. Communications, which also launched other hits, including The Jeffersons, another memorable comedy series that would likely be censured, for example, by contemporary African-American “leaders” who would question why white entertainment executives, directors, and producers should create a show with African-American lead actors. And what judgment might be rendered by Black Lives Matter, which now opines on even foreign policy? If BLM can support BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions of Israel), surely it would boycott a show it deems disrespectful of African Americans. Indeed, radical leftists on campus would denounce George and Louise Jefferson for believing that whites and blacks can live in the same dorm building and attend the same graduation ceremonies.
Let’s put it this way: Norman Lear’s wonderful shows were in no “safe zone.”
And what would Congresswoman Maxine Waters say? She just called retired and eminent (and liberal) former Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz, who supported Hillary Clinton, a “racist” for questioning the fairness of a D.C. grand jury impaneled to evaluate evidence against President Donald Trump. If an ambitious young Hollywood upstart tried to produce cutting edge satire like Norman Lear’s shows, the CNN THD (Talking Heads of Diversity) would be in shock.
Liberal icon Norman Lear made lots of money, and deservedly so, for his entertainment genius. As for the late Jerry Perenchio, Lear’s Republican partner and a wonderful and generous man, Perenchio made even more money on the Spanish language station Univision, prosperous especially because California’s bilingual education system and government policy incentivized Spanish, rather than learning English. That is, assimilation was bad for business. Perenchio’s estate is reportedly putting his Bel Air home (the Clampett mansion from the Beverly Hillbillies) on the market for $350,000,000 (not a typo). That means the buyer would be paying about $96,000 each day in California property taxes. (Think how much higher they would be if the state’s voters had not passed Proposition 13, that limited property taxes to one percent of a home’s sales price.)
Speaking of all these boycotts that would be mounted against a daring present-day Norman Lear, I will ask Norman Lear this question about his boycott: “You announced that while you will accept the Kennedy Center honor at its Awards Gala on December 3, you will not attend the White House reception that evening because of the way the Trump administration ‘has treated the arts,’ that is, its refusal ‘to fund the arts and humanities.’ You said, ‘I can’t imagine wishing to be there.… It is the turning of the presidency’s back on the arts and humanities that I can’t honor with a visit.’ Why, Mr. Lear, should the federal government forcibly collect taxes from all, to subsidize certain politically favored artists?”
I’m not even addressing the issue of past taxpayer subsidized “art” which vilified Christianity. Imagine if “the great Prophet Mohammed” were pilloried. Instead of righteous indignation, there could be riots and violence. The issue precisely is that government should not be in the business of art, and that would avoid the whole matter of government restrictions of censorship.
To be sure, Mr. Lear is protesting the Trump Administration’s proposal, not reality. That’s because, sadly, even many Republicans in the Senate and House lacked the fortitude to zero-out Federal government support of “the arts” and “the humanities.” Instead, they supported full funding or even an increase, in deference to some of their crony capitalist (yes, also Republican) donors who wanted money for their pet projects — a local art exhibition or local symphony.
I have written previously (e.g., here) about why it is improper for the central government to fund matters that are the province of arguably the states and cities, and more likely, the private sector. The marketplace judges what should be supported in, say, the arts. Mr. Lear became rich because Americans were drawn to his television programs. He succeeded without a government subsidy. It is a fact that throughout history, and perhaps more so now, there is a surplus of artists and musicians beyond the demand. This sounds cruel, but the market will reward those who reach people and will not reward the others. Americans spend a staggering amount on culture, such as it is. And there is much more than a safety net: it is called philanthropy, and here again, the money given by donors, of both great wealth and modest means, is considerable.
The alternative is, in theory, and perhaps ultimately in practice, government-approved art and music. When I went to the Soviet Union, the “creative” artists and musicians subordinated their creativity to the state. Only the loyal were subsidized. And, as I’ve written before, do you think that any art or music in Nazi Germany could have confronted the Führer?
The detractors of Donald Trump are legion, and their criticisms are not uniformly trivial. One would have expected Mr. Lear to advance a more typical alleged fault of Mr. Trump, that, for example, he hates Mexicans or favors breast cancer for women.
Instead, Mr. Lear says this is about the arts. Do you favor or oppose the arts, he implicitly asks? But everyone favors the arts, though many oppose the use of coerced tax dollars, in general, and especially because it necessarily employs favoritism in such dispensation. You appeal not to the consumers of art and music, but to the federal grant enablers. All this raises the specter of government control, which is to say, a rejection of a free society in which artists do their own thing.