Unification News for October, 2001
Arts in the Aftermath
Appropriateness. Linkage. Soul searching. These buzzwords have being echoing throughout the American arts and entertainment community as the national debate intensifies in response to the horrific events of September 11, 2001. I can remember no time in my life when the dialogue concerning appropriateness in the arts and entertainment industry has been as passionate and necessary as it has been in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Being in New York, home to both "ground zero" and the "Mecca" of Western culture, has provided a unique opportunity to hear perspectives offered by some of the world most prominent artists, producers and entertainers as to how the recent events might impact the arts.
In its September 23rd edition, the New York Times solicited opinions from artists representing a wide variety of disciplines of what an appropriate response should be by those who create, produce and perform. From the enlightened discourses of pop icon Paul Simon and television producer Tom Fontana, to the infuriatingly misguided linkage analogs of composers John Corigliano and Karlheinz Stockhausen, the debate is now raging in full cry.
In the immediate aftermath of the events of September 11, I was struck by the temporary respite from the normal programming on local television and radio as I sought information from the normal media outlets. The constant din of popular culture had ceased as networks decided, rightly so, that much if its normal programming was deemed inappropriate for the moment. Even as advertisements for the next, best SUV reappeared on the airwaves, the superficiality of the enterprise was not lost on the moment. Things are different as we all know.
Opinions from the arts community are obviously diverse and impassioned. Some more well reasoned than others.
In a very insightful article, singer/songwriter Paul Simon called for "a higher standard of honesty" and an "artistic and spiritual rebirth" in our society. He also called for a move away from corporate, bottom-line motivations and encouraged a reexamining of ourselves as people and a culture. His thoughts have found a great deal of resonance in the debate about the arts and entertainment industry and how they may need to change in a heightened climate of pain, suffering, rage, anger, healing and hope.
HBO producer Tom Fontana opined that the events of 9/11 "means figuring out where the United States fits in the global family...examining the roots of intolerance, fanaticism and hatred."
Conversely, Time Magazine contributing editor, Lance Morrow, viewed those seeking root causes for the terrorist attacks on America, as being "too philosophical for decent company."
Pulitzer Prize winning composer John Corigliano (whose music Iíve performed and find very engaging) spuriously linked religious fundamentalism and political fanaticism (Nazism) to the orthodoxies of dodecaphonic serialism, which in his view, "oppresses the true spirit of art." The gross hyperbole of this view speaks for itself; as if there was ever a "jihad" of serialists or jackbooted atonalists holding neo-romantics and minimalists hostage. It was a linkage that belied any credibility.
Perhaps the most unfortunate comments about the tragedy came from avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, who referred to the attack on the World Trade Center as, "the greatest work of art that is possible in the whole cosmos...something in one act we could never dream of in music." In an attempt at damage control he has since said that he was misquoted, but needless to say this was a very disturbing analogy.
The Causal Dimension
Looking at the causal dimension in the aftermath of 9/11, a moral revolution, or what Paul Simon called a "spiritual rebirth" in the arts and entertainment industry, may be a significant factor in Americaís attempt to maintain any moral high ground in its dealings with those who may oppose the ideals of altruism, liberty and peace.
Unificationists have an understanding that there exists a historical rift between Abel-type and Cain-type spheres and that both the resentment and rage of the disenfranchised as well as the arrogance and insensitivity of its polar opposite is at the root of many of the worldís struggles. Disunity of various religions has been at the center of many of the worldís most serious conflicts.
A central tenet of the Providence of Restoration in the Divine Principle is the understanding that loving and embracing Cain is Abelís great challenge. In taking up that challenge it becomes paramount for Abel to exercise extreme humility in a mode of self-examination and self-effacement. Perhaps Paul Simonís call for the entertainment industry to examine itself is exactly what is needed to assist in the amelioration of the resentments that exist among the disenfranchised of the world family.
Rev. Moonís definition of love as being "the union of truth, beauty and goodness" has never held more currency at is does now. Unificationism teaches that Christianity is "the bride religion" and that America, as a Christian nation, has a unique roll in preparing world Christianity to accept the Lord of the Second Advent.
Beauty in the aforementioned love equation corresponds to the feminine element of Godís nature, which in Christianity is ascribed to the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity we now have a unique opportunity to give beauty (art and culture) a more prominent role in the process of bringing the ideals of Unificationism into the national debate and provide solutions to solve the problems now before us.
Art is often considered superfluous and non essential to the process of furthering ideals. Yet music corresponds directly to the function of the Holy Spirit in opening the hearts of men and woman and can be far more effective than "the word," which can often be a polarizing element.
Whither Music and Art
Whither music and art in our attempts to offer the world a solution to its current dilemma?
There have been numerous articles appearing in a wide variety of publications about Islamís resentment and anger towards the United States. A constant in all of these articles was the citing of the pervasiveness of Americaís morally bankrupt, depraved and nihilistic popular culture and its corrosive effects throughout the world. That, combined with what Paul Simon referred to as the "hyperbolic and aggressive selling" of such, makes holding a position of moral integrity difficult if not impossible.
Any culture that considers desensitizing disaster films depicting massive carnage and destruction, pornography that is sold on cable or the Internet, or the practice of necrophilia in a recent Broadway musical, a mode of benign entertainment, cannot be considered one having a high degree of moral integrity. That we claim ourselves to be a God-loving, Christian country, yet justify this behavior in the name of free enterprise and civil liberties speaks volumes about the current moral climate in Western societies. The erosion of our moral and ethical perspectives as well as the insensitivities towards others, has led to a moral relativism, that many in the world community sees as being contemptibleóor worse.
In this regard the entertainment industry, which is the third largest corporate industry in America, must take a hard look at itself. To win the hearts and minds of the disenfranchised, a morally fit society must be humble enough to look at itself and examine its culture endeavors. History indicates that "Cain" will never follow a corrupt, arrogant, insensitive "Abel." Christian cultures must be self-effacing enough to recognize their culpability in the process of creating a culture of peace.
A Balanced Perspective
As a movement that believes that art should manifest qualities of altruism, nobility and godliness (truth, beauty and goodness) we should be at the forefront of the "moral revolution" in the arts. Gaining influence and the position to make the case for a new cultural paradigm should remain our strategy, but perhaps itís time to modify our tactics. In the current climate, the arts can, and should play a significant role in the process of change; and change is a process, not an event.
It is troubling to see that any scrutinizing of art and artists conjures cynicism, ridicule or sophomoric attempts to belittle those of good conscience by pundits on both sides of the political spectrum. On a recent visit to Rome, Cardinal Egan of New York suggested that American's might do a little "soul searching" in the aftermath of 9/11. Predictably, the liberal media is attempting to paint him as intolerant fundamentalist and conservatives are calling his remarks unpatriotic.
This begs the question: Do creators and producers bear any responsibility for the antagonisms that causes resentment, hatred and envy? There exists a fallacious notion that freedom of artistic expression is somehow sacrosanct and artists should not subjected to any culpability in how their art influences social mores or that art should be exempt of any moral assessment. It is as foolish to think that that which we create is somehow above scrutiny as it is reprehensible not to condemn any radical extremists for their acts of vengeance.
Looking again at causal dimensions, it is apparent in Western societies that lowest common denominator motivations and bottom line corporate mentalities are now juxtaposed in very coercive ways. This gives rise to cultural expressions that are impossible to defend in any assessment of moral integrity.
Calls for censorship are not the answer. Defending civil liberties and freedom of expression is a sign of a healthy society. Yet pluralism cuts both ways, thus calls for a higher creative ideal should not be considered acts of oppression or intolerance. Why settle for less than that is beneficial to oneís society? Why create that which denigrates our collective humanity? Artists have choices to make and the raising of consciousness among the arts community is one way to begin the process of ascertaining what might be considered a morally upright cultural perspective.
The following statement by 20th century German composer Paul Hindemith, whose moral fortitude was in great evidence as he stood up to Nazi terror in 1939, has often stood as a moral imperative for me as a go about my work as an artist.
"The composer who has become aware of the beacons that lead to truth and perfection, will then know about musical inspiration and how to touch validly the intellectual and moral depths of our soul. All the ethic power of music will be at his command and he will use it with a sense of severest moral responsibility. His further guides will be an inspiring creative ideal and the search of its realization, an unshakable conviction in the loftiness of our art, a power to evoke convincing and exalting forms and to address us with the language of purity. A life following such rules is bound to exemplarily persuade others to become associated. This life in and with music, being essentially a victory of external forces and a final allegiance to spiritual sovereignty, can only be a life of humility, of giving of oneís best to oneís fellow man. This gift will not be like alms passed on to the beggar; it will be the sharing of a manís every possession with his friend."
Hindemith, like the ancient cultures of China and Greece and the early Christian philosophers, Augustine and Boethius, possessed a profound awareness of the moral and ethical power of music and art. Understanding that artists donít create in a vacuum, these societies encouraged artists to exercise a moral responsibility for the benefit of the greater humanity. The dissolution of Roman civilization was due as much to its own internal moral proclivities and the resulting social disintegration as it was to hostilities from its enemies.
There is plethora of great music and art all around us; art that was born out of the "inspiring creative ideal" that Paul Hindemith refers to. To continually lower our moral standards in the production and marketing of art and entertainment that, in the name of a culture that professes to have a sensitivity to the welfare of the disenfranchised, erodes the very ideals we profess to believe in.
If there is a silver lining in the tragedy that has befallen us, perhaps it is the window of opportunity that will allow for serious mode of self-effacing in assessing the role of art and artists in creating a culture of peace. To paraphrase Mr. Fontana, that may mean figuring out where artists fit in the global family. In the Truth-Beauty-Goodness love paradigm as defined by Rev. Moon, it would seem that artists will have a significant role to play. How we play it remains every artistís challenge.
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