A Mind Is A Terrible Thing


New at Reason: If art isn't a threat to society, is it worth defending? A portrait of the artist as censor.

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  1. I miss Frank Zappa. He could have written a wonderful musical, starring Pat Boone, that none of these fuckwits would have understood, but would have had the rest of us rolling in the aisles. Sigh . . .

  2. In that case Malak, stay away from the Halloween audio DVD. Catches Frank in top-notch form and leaves you wanting more.

  3. Tim – chill out man! It’s not that bad.
    Go have a beer.


  4. Favourite Zappa tale. In Gr. 7 I discovered Zappa in the most unusual way possible. I won one of his records as part of a fund-raising drive for Catholic charities at my Catholic school. Dinah Moe Hum REALLY pissed off my old man. I would love to meet the twisted soul who donated that record, just to say thanks. I think Frank would have loved the joke.

  5. I know someone who thinks like this. I avoid him, like I would the plague. Interesting POV though.

    You really need to consult your doctor before going cold turkey on the prozac, dontcha know.

  6. “If the administration’s increasingly apparent incompetence, treachery and criminality are not enough to budge the poll numbers, Howard’s shrill rants are utterly useless. The idea that free expression is a dangerous or even powerful tool is a fiction artists and censors alike delude themselves into believing.”

    Tim –
    I don’t think the entrenched thoroughly worn out art form of talk radio is anywhere near the ‘dangerous’ novel art forms of antiquity in their power to inspire.

    Truly novel and excellent art *is* dangerous because it exposes incumbent power’s absence of monopoly claim on the soul of man and man’s ability to feel the divine.

    This is important because this is the feeling of freedom.

    Anyway it seems your article was politically inspired…Maybe Blogs are responsible for Bush’s poll numbers despite the ministrations of big media. Maybe this is why you are so surprised. Maybe Blogs are the free-expression that is keeping Bush’s poll numbers right where they are. Maybe UNScam, Kerry’s SUV that isn’t his, voting for a bill before voting against it among other Team Indecision 2004 blunders are helping things nicely.

    Anyway, you should be careful intimating the rest of the country are idiots that don’t know what is good for them. The worst dictators come from this intellectual heritage.

  7. Network …is still absurdly praised for its “prophetic” view of the television industry.

    Absurdly you say? You gotta be kidding me. There has not been a greater prophesy in the history of mankind. In the 70’s the dystopia of network was absurd. Then I watched as absurdity become the infotainment reality of the 80’s and 90’s. And now we have the defective child of infotainment, so called “reality”.

    I’m all for free speech. I’m even amenable to the proposition that pop culture is a manifestation of freedom, from which great social reforms are created and celebrated. That doesn’t mean I have to embrace it myself.

    90% of everything truly is crap.

  8. If art is a “threat” to society, is it worth experiencing? I find that most self-described “dangerous” art tends to be ugly pretentious crap, that is not worth the effort.

  9. Ahh, but Warren, that other 10% . . .

  10. Have you guys actually read that Boone interview? He says something about wanting to punch Howard Stern in his big nose. Someone needs to start up a meme that Pat Boone is an anti-semite.

  11. I think great art is seldom political and political art is seldom great. Most effective political art is, just as art, as crappy as anything else that comes out of a marketing department. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is not great literature nor the Daisy add great TV.

    The idea that art is the slave of politics is one piece of crypto-Marxism we could stand to lose. The idea that people skilled at making music, painting pictures, writing fiction etc, have some extraordinary insight into the nuts and bolts or running the rest of the world is silly.

  12. Xavier – Howard does have a big nose. Maybe Pat Boone wants to censor big noses too.

  13. Stop calling my wife Big Nose!

  14. Just checked my New Grove; planethoth is right that there was an early Symphony in C, though it’s so obscure I had been unaware of it. He also wrote a fragment of another symphony. I still consider it unlikely that the symphony inspired Hitler in any significant way.

    But I never rejected the idea that Wagner’s ideas had “any impact” on the Nazis, and if anything is “indefensible,” it’s putting words into my mouth in order to refute them. Why would I have ascribed guilt to Wagner while claiming that he had no impact at all?

    What I rejected was planethoth’s claim that Wagner wrote “Hitler-inspiring symphonies,” which I consider typical of the overinflated and underinformed claims of a connection between Wagner and Hitler; as I put it, the myth that Wagner was responsible for Hitler’s ideas.

    The Nazis made use of Wagner’s ideas, and Luther’s, and those of any other convenient anti-Semite. But this discussion is specifically of art inspiring people to evil, and there’s nothing in Wagner’s musical works, as opposed to the ideas he personally expressed, which is particularly pro- or proto-Nazi. Yes, Siegfried is a German barbarian, but he’s also very anti-authoritarian.

  15. Uncle Ben’s Cabin comes to mind as a counter example to Tim’s thesis, or at least that’s what the common mythology about it would have us believe. Of course, exceptions don’t prove the rule, and if we’re talking about the effect of most art, I would agree entirely. But then, we can likely say the same about the overwhelming number of opinion pieces written as well, right? Hell, what does ANYTHING mean? Does anyone know if any serious research has ever been done on what DOES succeed at bringing about social/political change? I imagine nothing’s been found out for sure in that regard or else they would have bottled it by now.

  16. My adjective ‘Hitler-inspiring’ as applied to Wagner stands. It is utterly ridiculous to claim that the appearance of the heroic “Volk” in the Ring is separate from his personal politics.

    Moreover, it is laughable to say that the advancement and promotion of an idea, whether through opera, symphony, writing or other means, is not in some way responsible for the effects of that idea. The debate, indeed, is about whether art can be dangerous–and the art of Wagner, Strauss, and others who influenced Hitler, certainly qualifies.

  17. “Self-imposed means that the majority of people say that is what we want,” says Boone. So if three wolves decide to have a sheep for dinner, it’s really the sheep’s “self-imposed” decision to be eaten.

  18. If ‘art’ (in the loosest sense of that term) is not dangerous, then what of Wagner’s Hitler-inspiring symphonies? Or the countless idiots in my (middle-class) high school who ended up criminals because they thought the thug life Tupac and Snoop Dogg glorified in their music was literally cool?

    And surely a libertarian should recognize the danger of the many charismatic–if vapid–actors and musicians and writers instructing their fans on the evils of capitalism, etc. Does that have no impact?

    It is good not to overestimate the danger of art. It’s also good not underestimate it, too.

  19. Tim Cavanaugh wrote, “You’d be hard pressed to find any theatrical film, from A Face In the Crowd on, that doesn’t pontificate about the dangers of the so-called culture of television.”

    Does he mean it’s hard to find a movie about television that doesn’t treat the medium as a danger, or is he saying that virtually every film, even those that don’t appear to have anything to do with television whatsoever, pontificate about the dangers of the small screen? If it’s the latter, can someone explain to me what I’m missing in “virtually every film”?

  20. What Shannon said.

  21. i think of my favorite books i read as an impressionable lad and the impact they had on my thinking, and i think tim c.’s off mark on this. censors and their would-be targets may be spastic, but art can be “dangerous” in the sense that it propels certain people towards outcomes not necessarily desired by their would-be controllers.

    hip hop, even in its nero-esque, glitz n’ bling denoument, is proof of this.

  22. Alex Tabarrok quotes Don Boudreaux quoting Sheldon Richman:

    The most dangerous mind-altering subtance of all is: ink.

    But adds:

    Shouldn’t that be electrons?


  23. planethoth: If you’re going to perpetuate the myth that Wagner was somehow responsible for Hitler’s ideas, at least get your facts straight. Wagner didn’t write a single symphony. He is best known as an opera writer.

    He did write a nasty article on Jews in music, but his guilt is less than that of people like Richard Strauss and Herbert von Karajan, who directly lent their prestige to the Nazis.

  24. fyodor,

    I think you meant to say “Uncle TOM’S Cabin.” Uncle Ben’s is a brand of rice 🙂

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