Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Dear Bart Hester (and you too, Bob Ballinger),
I get it.
You're not really the town council in Footloose, you don't have a problem with dancing per se; you just don't think the state should spend any money advertising the fact that a state university offers dance classes. You just don't think that dance is as important as math and computer science. You may be wrong about that, but I'll admit that most of your constituents might agree with that statement, up to a point.
But that doesn't really matter. If you had a face-to-face conversation with someone who thinks art and theater programs are a good idea and ought to be featured in a state university's marketing campaign you might very well walk away from that conversation still believing that math and science are more important than the arts. And it's likely that the arts advocate would also walk away with convictions intact. But maybe neither of you would think the other was a completely unreasonable horse's ass, even if you couldn't work out an immediate compromise.
Because, as they used to say, reasonable minds can differ.
And while it's problematic that you went on to suggest that because you saw a billboard advertising dance studies instead of other degrees, higher education in Arkansas doesn't need additional funding, I am willing to cut you a small break on that.
You mightn't have really meant it; your actual position is likely less extreme than what your tweet implied. Because it's hard to make a nuanced argument within the confines of a tweet. Which is one reason elected officials and other people who aspire to be taken seriously probably shouldn't use Twitter to make statements on serious subjects. Twitter is not a medium that admits much nuance, and for most of us its highest and best use is public thanking of tradespeople and to make dad or mom jokes. Bad tweeters (myself included) should probably use it sparingly, if at all.
Now maybe that goes against the branding advice of some bright young aide of yours. I don't know if state representatives have bright young aides; they probably don't, but there may well be a 12-year-old somewhere in the picture. I say forget it, you don't need to build a brand, you don't need to entertain people on Twitter. You need to do your best for all the people you represent, which includes those who voted for you and may do so again as well as the people who never have and never will.
That's your job.
It's not your job to set yourself up to run for some higher office, or to raise money for future campaigns (or to zero out balances from past ones). You have financial pressures like everybody else, but no one compelled you to serve. To be honest, the state Legislature shouldn't be the best job you ever have. It really should be more like some pain-in-the-butt volunteer gig you have to go to now and again because you feel obligated to (and I hate this phrase but it's appropriate here) "give back" to your community because you've been so fortunate.
It shouldn't be some big-deal thing with a lot of prestige and glamour attached--and it's kind of embarrassing when your lot (not naming names, but I bet you could) start to act like it is.
But anyway, I'm getting discursive (which, by the way, is my job). My point is that you're a thoughtful grownup who can formulate complete thoughts and doesn't need to try to appeal to some lowest-common-denominator yahoo factor. So maybe you should refrain from offering policy ideas through a platform designed for people whose attention span is limited to 280 characters.
I know everyone else is doing it. I'm doing it (follow me @borkdog). But I write a newspaper column in what's at best an uncertain age for traditional media outlets. I need to make people pay attention to the thoughts that waft through my pretty little head. You, sir, are supposed to be up to the people's business, and while that shouldn't be a party with cake and ponies, you should understand the importance of your work.
And I'm sure you do. Anyone can make an unfortunate tweet. All of us ought to understand that probably 90 percent of the problems we face could be worked out if we were only willing to grant the people with whom we disagree a full measure of humanity. Sure, people are often swayed by misinformation, superstition and/or wishfulness, but all of us have our reasons. Embracing tribalism--whether we identify along racial or ethnic political lines--is no way to promote the general welfare.
I'm not saying you're hostile to art, because you're probably not. But maybe you'll agree that there are a lot of people who hold this idea of art as something alien and difficult, something that has little to do with them. And this is very sad for them, for to not like art is to not like being human. To reject art is to reject sentience, to be swaddled by numb, dumb animal darkness. No one really wants that.
Art is vital stuff. It stirs in that frontier of consciousness we sometimes call the soul.
It's convenient to think of it as a human invention, to believe ourselves distinguished by our will to create, our urge to establish ourselves as petty gods capable of authoring our own worlds. But there's evidence it arrived even before homo sapiens did, for the creatures who pressed their palms to a cave wall in a place we now call Spain may not have been true men but Neanderthals, struggling to cut through sensory interference and arrive at something like sense and meaning--an awareness of themselves as beings in a not particularly welcoming world, a wakening wonder at being alive and autonomous, a cold creeping intimation of the possibility, if not inevitability, of death.
They were working through the mystery before we had language, before we had math and computer science or logic, all those tools that simulate orderliness and give us comfort. They were engaged in arranging and repurposing elements of nature, making something stand for something else. How can a scrawl of charcoal be perceived as a prehistoric bison or your grandmother? How is that not a miracle? How is that not magic?
How is that not important?
You know it is. Go on and dance, big fella. And next time don't press "send."
Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at email@example.com and read his blog at blooddirtandangels.com.
Editorial on 02/13/2018
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