I've been uptight and made a mess...
Another voice joins the chorus of those bothered by my (among others) criticism of Gustavo Dudamel, his Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, and the media fervor over the same (in addition to the Chávez government).
Darcy James Argue once had this to say, in the comments section of Mr. Guerrieri's post, which I dealt with below, beforehand, I should note, he called this "intemperate," (no kidding)
Thanks for this. It has been, frankly, depressing to see so many in Classical Blogdonia make transparently... (I'm afraid there is no other word) retarded arguments, holding Dudamel and the SBYO to standards of conduct not observed by any other artist in the history of mankind.Fair enough. I do trust that Mr. Argue, though, is aware that Wilhelm Furtwängler was subjected to and made to account to similarly high standards of conduct, standards that pretty well train-wrecked his career (more so in the United States than in Europe) from 1945 to his death in 1954. Would I compare a tin-pot Latin American strongman and his grasping ambitions to an organization on the shortlist for "most evil of all time," though such senseless measuring ignores the inconceivable human toll of such an organization (Viz. Günter Grass' Im Krebsgang)? Probably not. But to say that no one has been held to similar standards is, and I am sorry to be so blunt, just not entirely accurate. No one who stays, so to speak, can live up to the standards. Why? Because staying is the problem. Leaving is the only choice for people confronted by such situations, regardless of what they leave behind when they leave. If Furtwängler's argument that he stayed to save culture for those who needed it most didn't hold cultural water, even if the denazification tribunal found it acceptable, then why should any similar argument hold?
So fine -- while we're at it, let's ream out Duke Ellington for not publicly denouncing American apartheid while touring on the State Department's dime. Because Duke was a big fucking hypocrite for acting as the cultural ambassador for a nation that systematically surpressed the rights of hs people... is that how we're rolling now?
And are the people criticizing Dudamel and the SBYO really so stupid that they cannot wrap their minds around the idea of being proud of your country while being perhaps somewhat ambivilent about your government? I don't think so. Instead, I think those people are making the kind of self-evidently moronic bad-faith arguments that would make Fox News producers blush.
In direct response to Mr. Argue's comment, though, I have this to say: So what? I certainly don't see much ambivalence coming out of the SBYO. The only argument is that they could be wearing their national colors in the same spirit as the protesters who wave the Venezuelan flag. You can be ambivalent about your government and still love your country, God knows I'm walking proof of that much, but you first have to be ambivalent about your government. That means doing something about it. Simple, I know, and I wouldn't have thought such a statement necessary before becoming a bit-player in this blogoconflict.
Now, I further suppose that I am just making more "self-evidently moronic bad-faith arguments that would make Fox News producers blush" by answering Mr. Argue's latest post, but I am apparently self-evidently a moron, so I don't feel too bad about that. How could I? In the course of his critique, he had this to say,
I could answer this in a broader context of Russian nationalism, which - in the modern era - was institutionalized by Stalin, despite being a Georgian and surrounded by Georgian retainers, who allowed Mikhail "Papa" Kalinin to serve as president of the Soviet Union, since it was necessary to appease the nationalist tendencies of Russia, despite the cosmopolitan trends of Marxism-Leninism. What's more, Stalin's Russian nationalism became stronger and more virulent (Doctors' Plot, anyone? The Anti-Semitic Purges ring a bell?) after 1945. Putin seems to have focused on and tapped into that nationalism, which inclines most rank-and-file Russians to support him, even as he tank-parades back to the glory days of Leonid Brezhnev and Mikhail Suslov.
Have any of the critics and bloggers writing about the Kirov Orchestra's current tour mentioned how they are troubled by Gergiev's "direct line" to Putin? (Especially given the farce of a Russian election currently underway?) Has anyone asserted: "Supporting [Gergiev], his [Kirov] orchestra, and other [Russian] cultural products is akin to saying that we love the produce of a nascent dictatorship"?I do so assert as of this moment, since Mr. Argue is quoting me. I am personally more worried about Putin resurrecting the Soviet empire and saying nice things about Stalin than anything a puffed-up, self-important potentate (who wouldn't be at square one if not for his oil money) being just as undemocratic. Indeed, Putin's decision to seek the premiership after his presidency ends is likely the first tolling of the death knell of Russian democracy. In this weekend's Wall Street Journal, the centerpiece article "Gorby's Choice" wonders in the subhead, "He brought democracy to Russia. So why is he backing Putin, the man undoing his legacy?"
I do not like to play the "if you are outraged about this, why aren't you outraged about that" game. But in this case, the parallel is too clear and the double standard too glaring to let pass without comment.
Mr. Argue is bothered by a double standard. I don't see a double standard at work here. No one is hauling the Kirov around, which makes a strongly pro-Soviet (and not just run-of-the-mill Soviet: hardcore, brutally repressive, and genocidal Stalinist) statement with its name, by the way, and touting it as a good thing. No one is arguing that the Kirov is somehow a force for social good and proof that musical education works. No one, no matter how benighted, holds the Kirov up as evidence that Russia is doing something right. Where's the problem? There is a problem with Moscow, Gergiev's relationship with Putin, and what's happening in Russia today, but it's a different problem on one level than Dudamel and the SBYO.
Arguing that Chávez and his regime, of which Dudamel and his band are unquestionably part and for which they are cultural representatives, is not as bad as Putin is specious. It's a big "So what?" Any assertions about Putin and Gergiev have no bearing on any assertions about Dudamel and Chávez. They might be the same assertions, but that does not imply that the boundaries are not closed. Conflating the two questions is part of a bigger argument that no one seems to want to have, but to which many seem to want to allude: What is the moral duty of an artist in a repressive regime? I've made my answer, and I apply it equally.
I see the defenses of Dudamel et al. as being based on the emotional aspect of El Sistema: Chávez is bad, true, but children are getting a chance, so how bad is he? The other option is that folks aren't all that bothered by what's happening in Venezuela, which option is so egregious that I wouldn't dream of imputing it to anyone. I'll just assume that the first option is the rationale at work. My logic, below, still holds. You cannot assert that Chávez is bad, but part of his regime (no matter when it was founded) is good, without contradicting yourself and implying that Chávez is good. It's just that simple. You can't do it with Putin, either, but I don't see that argument made.