I don’t believe I’m Bradley the Buyer, “best narcotics agent in the industry,” as
William Burroughs put it. But in a very polite way, Ed Ettel, a Straight Up reader, pretty much
says I am in an email message, while he (without knowing it, I’m sure) is the District Supervisor
who calls Bradley on the carpet. Mr. Ettel wrote:
Jan, please accept a critic’s viewpoint. Including articles with obvious political
slant, such as your “WELL, THERE’S ONE TERRIBLE PILOT”
March 24 entry in Straight Up, diminishes the value of the Arts Journal. I hardly think it lives up
to representing “some of the best arts and cultural journalism in the English-speaking
Here’s the passage from “Naked
Lunch” that his message brings to mind. It comes when Bradley
the Buyer receives a summons from the District Supervisor (the ellipses are Burroughs’):
Bradley, your conduct has given rise to rumors — and I hope for your sake
they are no more than that — so unspeakably distasteful that … I mean Caesar’s wife … that is, the
Department must be above suspicion … certainly above such suspicions as you have seemingly
aroused. You are lowering the entire tone of the industry. We are prepared to accept your
What is exercising Mr. Ettel — a political point of view in an opinion piece — ordinarily would
not trouble him, I presume (more below on that presumption), if ArtsJournal had a different
mission from reporting and commenting on arts and culture. His message continues:
I am a longtime supporter of the arts, but when artists become political
advocates, or worse, it demeans their art. Because of their bias, most of the media has also lost
credibility in recent years. Our culture is something we all share, and unfortunately our U.S.
culture seems to deteriorate daily. We all share part of the blame for this deterioration, including
our politicians and business people, but the activities in the arts and media are equally to
By his reasoning, Mr. Ettel would also have to object to Frank Rich’s typically excellent
weekly column, which begins on the front page of the Sunday Arts & Leisure section of The New
York Times. It is nothing if not a political column and, for my money, is the section’s saving
grace. By a nice coincidence, moreover, in yesterday’s column, “Operation Iraqi Infoganda,” Rich cites the same
Wall Street article I cited in “WELL, THERE’S ONE TERRIBLE PILOT” to
illustrate our Maximum Leader’s fictionalized derring-do on 9/11.
Rich also cites Richard Clarke’s testimony, as I did, i.e. “A SILENCE WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS”
last Tuesday, and our Maximum Leader’s interview last month with Tim Russert, as I did, i.e. “A TRULY LOUSY INTERVIEW” on Feb. 8, and
“FROM ROBUST TO BUST” on Feb. 10.
What Rich neatly sums up in two words as a “maladroit performance,” I described as “canned
replies” that “begged the questions … and should have come stamped with a generic product label:
‘Oval Office house brand,'” all of which was delivered by a politician who “cocked his head like a
bantam rooster and moved his lips like a sock puppet. This is considered ‘presidential’?”
Mr. Ettel’s message concludes:
But I left out one part of your mission, your ‘tude. I guess that is where the
problem with your article really lies. Do you recognize this?
Maybe the best reply to that is to quote from New York Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent’s
column in the Week in Review, “The Privileges of Opinion, the Obligations of Fact,”
which also appeared yesterday:
The opinion writer chooses which facts to present, and which to withhold. He
can paint individuals he likes as paragons, and those he disdains as scoundrels. … Opinion is
Mr. Ettel is, I’m sure, a very nice, well-meaning person. But some people just don’t get it, and
I regret to say he’s one of them. His presumption is that art and politics do not or should not mix.
Mine is the opposite. They carom and caress. They clash and co-exist.
Take your pick.
Postscript: Kriston Eller, a reader from Cincinnati, writes: “I would
argue that when art and/or culture don’t mix with politics, you don’t really have art and/or culture.
You might have fashion or decoration or pleasantry, but without some sort of deeper meaning —
and meaning is inherently political in at least one of the many senses of the word — you don’t
really have art.”
Shane Hockin also weighs in: “I might agree that your blog entry on Bush’s statements
upon finding out about the attacks on the WTC is a little misguided (I can relate to poorly timed
bad humor in times of crisis). But I must totally disagree with Mr. Ettel’s assessment that
art and politics do not mix. I think what he REALLY meant to say was that art and politics
contradictory to HIS political view do not mix.
“On the contrary, where would art be without political bias? Were not Michelangelo’s
works affected by the political climate of Rome during the Renaissance? Do not Andy Warhol’s
works make great political statements? What about the art of political cartoons? Are they not art
because they have political messages?”