Saturday, December 04, 2004

Indeed, where are the lions?

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:32 AM |  

I’ve had this column by Pioneer Press theater critic Dominic Papatola in my “to blog” pile for several weeks, and it still is irritating. It’s a buffet of the most frightening assembly of liberal collective “archetypes,” and as is the danger of buffets, the temptation is to overload one’s plate -- in this case fisk the article paragraph by paragraph, and chew up Papatola’s column to the point of purging.

And that I shall do, but not without the warning that Papatola’s column, “Who will replace the passing generation of arts patron?” is really scary stuff, folks. This is not the laughable ranting of a newspaper columnist who confuses “knowing stuff” with real intelligence. Papatola is a person with real intelligence, and it’s no laughing matter that it has been seduced by such a perverted ideology.

Papatola is right on with what would have been a worthy subject for his column --“Art will out in the end. It’s simply too persuasive, too powerful, too alluring and too deeply ingrained in our consciousness not to capture hearts and minds . . . .” So is sex, which can manifest as a “means,” rampant promiscuity or as an “end” in an intimate loving relationship. Patatola’s column is about means.

The news peg of the column is the passing of Jim Binger, ex-Honeywell chief, theater mogul.” Papatola notes that Binger’s death was the third significant departure from the arts philanthropy landscape in the past two years citing the passing of Binger's wife, Virginia McKnight Binger, who oversaw the growth of the McKnight Foundation and Ken Dayton, who with wife, Judy, donated more than $100 million to artistic and social causes.

Papatola praises their donations to the arts, and notes that they were true lovers of the arts and part of the “unique alchemy that makes the Twin Cities such a rich cultural community.” The “old lions are fading," he laments, "as are the days when the wealth that was created here stayed here." Here’s where his ideological eye starts to wander --

The business world — more concentrated in its power and more bloodthirsty in its competitive zeal — is a more complicated place. Corporate decisions that were once made using the warm arithmetic of community-mindedness increasingly fall prey to the cold calculus of efficiency, profit margins and investor expectations.

Even as the business world grows more globalized, individuals are becoming more insular. Three out of every eight wealthy people, according to a 2003 survey commissioned by a group of charitable foundations, don't feel an obligation to give back to their communities financially.
So much for the glass half empty view of the world. Five out eight wealthy people do consider it an obligation. (Are these the Binger/Dayton wealthy or are these the Minnesota Department of Revenue “wealthy,” e.g. a working couple making more than $70,000 a year.) Oh, and by the way, it’s that “cold calculus of efficiency” and “globalized” business environment that enables 3M, for example, to be more than a local sand-paper company and able to create the kind of democratized wealth that makes contributions to the arts possible.

At this point in his column, Patatola’s ideology really starts to swell.

Some espouse the Dickensian notion that paying taxes is the equivalent of giving to charity. Some haven't run up the score of their own accumulation enough to triumph over their sense of insecurity. Others, filled with hubris, attribute their success to their own skills, oblivious to the contributions of the community that produced them, educated them and gave them a context for viewing the world.
This deserves a Yikes.” Pride in one's skills is the equivalent of “hubris?” Productivity is an indication of “insecurity?” The individual of worth is he with no worth other than his nutritional value to an ethically starved society? And while no doubt some “wealthy” might consider paying taxes charity, breathes there anywhere a liberal who does not consider taxing the wealthy as the moral equivalent of compassion?

(My recommendation is that Papatola forego the community reading of The Great Gatsby and tackle The Fountainhead -- Nick Coleman should rent the movie.)

"In the legendary scene
in which Dominique
watches Roark pound
his pneumatic drill
into the quarry rockface,
there's no mistaking the
beatific look on her face
for intellectual excitement."

After that last paragraph, Papatola is down to the short strokes. His column erupts with this venomous ejaculation --

Philanthropy, the experts tell us, is a learned behavior that's passed from generation to generation. In days where politicians and pollsters love to huff on about the prevalence of "moral values," the subtle ethic of contributing to the greater good is getting lost in the intergenerational translation. People are so busy trying to define community — fretting about who will marry whom, for instance — that they won't take time to build community.

Now, add in an election in which 51 percent of us chose the "me" rather than in the "we" by voting for a president whose idea of inclusivity involves prescreening audiences at his campaign rallies. And companies who insist on a "naming opportunity" for their allegedly charitable contribution. And a federal education policy that doesn't value the arts because you can't test for aesthetic literacy.
Ahh . . . We knew it had to be George Bush’s fault, didn’t we?

Now spent, Papatola limps into the one salient point in his column, the power of art to move human hearts and minds. His examples, however, are interesting -- Egyptian pharaohs, the Medici family and Andrew Carnegie. So slavery, treachery and unrestrained greed are forgivable as long as the one contributes to the Guthrie?

I’m not quite sure of the ethic at work here, but then neither is Papatola. Before he drifts off in the arms of his beloved beliefs, he whispers a final sweet nothing --

Whether they sought immortality, legitimacy or simply a contribution to the common good, those with means have never been able to resist those with creativity. Those of us in between have to keep the faith.
How do people acquire “means”? In our vocabulary the ideas of creativity and wealth are inextricably linked -- even Papatalo uses the phrase "wealth created here.” There’s a good reason the bumper sticker doesn’t read “Wealth Happens.”

Enough. It’s time for a nap and dreams of young lions roaring on the beach.”