Thursday, September 28, 2006

Reporting Drama Where There Is None

What is it with Nashville City Paper reporter Bill Harless that he needs to create controversy that does not exist? There is no scandal in the Metro Arts Commission (MAC) selecting art for the new public square without direct popular involvement. Notice I did not say "public" involvement, because Jane Q. Public is involved through the democratic process of electing a mayor and a council to oversee the Arts Commission. Our government is not just democratic; it is also a republican form, which provides a check against the arbitrary mob-rule mentality of majoritarian democracy. And frankly, most of us do not have time to go to every Metro commission meeting and to micro-manage their procurement processes.

So the art selection process for the Public Square does not have popular involvement. So what? This isn't "American Idol" or "Dance with the Stars." I would like those who govern to have dignity higher than rabble-rousing with bread and circuses. I have never heard of an Arts Commission converting its procurement process to a popularity contest. Harless surely fails to provide any precedent from any other community that would warrant such an idiotic gesture.

We require nobler gestures. One of the purposes of art is to educate and to make people think outside of preconceived boxes. If MAC just hands us the most popular art possible, it will not be helping the public look beyond its particular blind spots. For Harless to suggest that I should be entitled to influencing MAC directly to install art that I like is like suggesting that when I pay a university money for an education, professors should only tell me what I want to hear. Education is not a popularity contest or a comfort food. The best education or art challenges people to see truth or beauty with eyes that they had not previously used.

But beyond its whole vacuous appeal to the lowest denominator, Harless's report contains a noxious subtext that serves the priorities of the conservative wing of Metro Council. His underlying assumption from the first paragraph seems to be that, in paying money, people also pay for political influence, and he finally gets around to quoting council member Eric Crafton in the final paragraph, who is the only person to give Harless's assumption a sympathetic response. However, Harless's assumption is dangerous in a constitutional democracy that holds that influence over the political system is an inalienable, natural right that does not affix to the amount of money the public pays. If our right to influence MAC relied on the money that we pay, then quite logically, those who pay more money should have more political influence. There is very little democratic in that possibility, regardless of its popularity.

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