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By now you certainly have already read Pinter’s incendiary Nobel acceptance speech condemning political rhetoric and specifically American foreign policy:
I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man’s man.
‘God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden’s God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam’s God was bad, except he didn’t have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don’t chop people’s heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don’t you forget it.’
I actually am sympathetic to many of the opinions stated in the speech. Provocatively presented, yes, but on the whole not too offbase. My objection is simply: is politics really that important? Can writers really change mass opinion this way? Do most people care? 100 years from now, this denunciation might give us little insight into who we are or what function art plays in our society. Still, I do enjoy the peculiar biases of the Nobel committee (how on earth did they settle on Elfriede Jelinek?)
Some mainstream not-overly-political works do have a political impact. Loving Glances (a movie by a young Serb director–see my movie diary) talks about politics hardly at all, yet it humanizes the people whose lives were affected by Milosevic and the refugees. The same is true for a novel I read last year, Crescent: A Novel by Diana Abu-Jaber. Politics is a backdrop, not the main event. I would argue that shows like the Simpsons and Southpark and King of the Hill have enormous political impact on viewers without viewers really understanding what is happening (funny that they’re all cartoons!)
In this age of political corruption and misuse of public rhetoric, are artists obligated to speak out through their art? Inevitably, they fail (Llosa and Kundera come to mind as exceptions). The artist’s strength lies not with taking on grand ideas but in bringing them down to a personal level.
Upon Reflection: I’ve concluded that Pinter has performed a valuable service. Not for humanity, but for other writers. By launching such a tirade, he saves hard-working writers the time and trouble of having to do it ourselves. Frankly, in 2004, I was too focused on political things, and look how far that got me (and the world). It is nice for writers to have a unity of voices, but on the other hand, we shouldn’t be wasting time on affairs in which our opinion makes not one iota of difference.
On another note: Eastern Lemming Liberal News (produced by a blogger named Gary Denton in Pasadena, Texas) really stays on top of the cutting edge liberal stuff. Thanks, Gary, for all the digging!