Friday Mack Attack, 12/11/08
This week I'm macking on: Mark Pinsky's New Republic article on why Barack Obama's economic stimulus proposal should include a new New Deal-style Federal Writer's Project. Journalism is imploding just as much as car manufacturing and Wall Street hedge fund pimping, and it's arguably better for us than either. Since the jury's still out on whether Congress will allow the people who brought us Hummers and those who deal in unfettered capitalism to die on the same sword by which they thrived, at the very least it ought to throw a lifeline to the one industry clairvoyant enough to call attention to this garbage long before it started to rot. And even if that industry was as retrograde in its preparation for this day as the others, well, at least we were only hurting ourselves.
You can hear Pinsky discuss the Federal Writer's Project here on NPR's program Day to Day, which on Wednesday was cancelled and its staff laid off. You can also read Pinsky's chilling account of being axed from the Orlando Sentinel. And if you're feeling particularly masochistic, check out Paper Cuts' graphic map of 2008's layoffs and buyouts at U.S. newspapers. The Federal Writer's Project employed 6,600 people; last year alone we lost over 15,000 newspaper jobs. Brother (and by brother, I mean Mr. Obama), can you spare a dime; or rather, can you afford not to?
And I'm hating on: The fact that in his article Pinsky sideswipes the New Deal's Federal Theatre Project. What, it's less controversial or overtly political to federally subsidize journalists instead of artists? Are you kidding? Anyone who believes the right (and often the left) thinks journalism is politically neutral needs someone to remove their blinders and give them a good kick in the ass. There, did that hurt? Good. Now maybe you won't be so surprised when Obama's Federal Writer's Project (from your visionary mouth, Mr. Pinsky, to G-d's ears) gets backhanded by Congress. And you'll be able to see better when you sock them right right back with a fistful of arts programs.
Just reading through the Federal Theatre Project's accomplishments brings tears to my eyes, and I'm talking real, wet, chest-swelling tears of amazement that when things were going so terribly wrong, this country did something so right. So much of Depression-era government-sponsored artistic propaganda was concerned with integration and racial equality, it seems less than coincidental that now, as we teeter again on the abyss, we have our first African-American president waiting to take office. It also makes the possibility of a WPA-style out-of-the-closet, new-work-developing, status-quo-challenging arts program seem slightly less-far-fetched than under, say, a Bush administration... Any Bush administration.
The FTP brought touring productions to rural areas; produced work that ranged in content from Yiddish theater to the "Living Newspaper" plays (which, though they were indeed controversial, employed plenty of out-of-work journalists); and perhaps most spectacularly, produced with its Negro Unit an all-black "Voodoo Macbeth" in Harlem, directed by the 20-year-old Orson Welles. That last one alone is the sort of miraculous event that could induce me to wear a flag pin. But more important, it underscores the point that federal support for the arts is both the hallmark and legacy of a great civilization. We, as a nation, could sure use that sort of reminder right now.
Below: Newsreel of Voodoo Macbeth