My U.S. Minister of Culture Debate at WNYC

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Last week, I debated the former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities William Ferris about his proposal for a U.S. Minister of Culture on WNYC's SoundCheck:

In France, the government has had a minister of culture for over 50 years, but here in the U.S., a cabinet-level cultural affairs post has never existed. That could soon change, as members of President Obama's arts review transition team have expressed interest in creating an "arts czar" position. William Ferris, former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Reason magazine columnist Ronald Bailey join us to discuss the possibility—and necessity—of a Secretary of Culture.

One of my better moments occurred when, after going on about how marvelous it is that Brazilian pop star Gilbert Gil is that country's minister of culture, the program played a segment from one of Gil's recordings. I innocently asked if the recording had been produced and supplied by the Brazilian Ministry of Culture? Answer: No. WNYC had bought it from a private profit-making distributor. 

In any case, go here to listen to the debate and to hear some of the insightful comments from call-ins.

You may also want to read my blogpost on the idiocy of having a minister of culture.  

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  1. How about a constitutional amendment: No new Cabinet posts can be created in any year that outlays exceed tax revenue.

  2. Those commenters are a tough crowd. I like how at least one thinks Bush was our guy.

  3. Why not cap the number of cabinet posts? If one is created another must be eliminated.

    Let’s cap that limit 3.

  4. In France, the government has had a minister of culture for over 50 years, but here in the U.S., a cabinet-level cultural affairs post has never existed.

    They’ve done it in France for 50 years, so, case closed.

    When you open your argument with “They’ve done it in France for 50 years”, you’re intellectually bankrupt. I don’t give a shit what or why they’ve done it in France. Why should they do it here?

  5. Shorter version of Billy!’s comment:

    We can’t afford it.

  6. I innocently asked if the recording had been produced and supplied by the Brazilian Ministry of Culture? Answer: No. WNYC had bought from a private profit-making distributor.

    Ron,

    Predictable response: “You see! This is why a ministry of culture is so important!”

  7. I’ve blogged about the idiocy of Canadian cultural subsidies here:

    http://www.markguppy.com/2009/01/porn-in-usa.html

    I think the Canadian experience is instructive – in Canada, films featuring teenage lesbians in all girls boarding school are boring and can’t turn a profit even when they get released on DVD…

  8. Whats next, The Minister of Silly Walks.

  9. I would totally support the idea of an Arts Czar if he or she promises to lock Thomas Kinkade away in a dank Pakastani prison.

  10. This must be the “good” art, the government says so….

  11. Where’s the Relationship Czar? The human race isn’t about to propagate itself!

  12. P.S. Anybody notice Mr. Ferris’ use of the rather creepy term “valid art”.

  13. P.S. Anybody notice Mr. Ferris’ use of the rather creepy term “valid art”.

    Holy sh… no I didn’t.

    Missed that entirely. All other art being the degenerate kind, I guess.

  14. Paul, it doesn’t make the arguement intellectually bankrupt, just insufficient. France makes an excellent case study, much like public health care in Great Britain and Canada. And after examining the French after 50 years of a culture minister, I’m quite comfortable saying, “I don’t want one in the US.”

  15. Does a culture minister tell people how to dress when they riot over job security issues?

  16. A Priori…
    If it comes from Europe it sucks the big one, if any European thinks it’s a good idea, it sucks the big one and lastly, Europe itself sucks the big one.

  17. that’s right, the big one…

  18. The good thing is, a ministry of culture will allow us to completely discount another entire arm of the U.S. experience. You know, like the auto industry. Anything produced under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture can now be written off as “propaganda”.

  19. France has had a culture minister for 50 years and all we get form them is cirque de solie. yeah, hes worth it. And “WHAT THE HELL EXACTLY IS VALID ART” AND WHO’S VALIDITY?

  20. Where’s the Relationship Czar? The human race isn’t about to propagate itself!

    Inspired by the most logical speicies in the galaxy, breeding will only be allowed every seven years. For some of us this will be a lot less breeding, for others of us, a lot more.

  21. All other art being the degenerate kind, I guess.

    That’s how you know it’s the good stuff. It’s labeled “degenerate”.

  22. Cirque du Soleil comes from Quebec, not France.

  23. @ spongepaul: cirque de soleil is brought to you courtesy of the Canadian taxpayer, not France.

  24. Cirque du Soleil comes from Quebec, not France.

    Cirque du Soleil comes from hell.

  25. Cirque du Soleil comes from Quebec, not France.

    Cirque du Soleil comes from hell.

    Never been to Quebec, I see.

  26. Canadian Culture funding is part of the reason we Canadians are barred from legally
    watching the Superbowl with American adverts.

  27. Can’t wait to tell my artist friends about this proposal – pretty sure they’ll also find it appalling.

    So who thinks this is a good idea again? Aside from Quincy Jones.

  28. i found the comments on the wnyc site pretty interesting, beyond the usual crypto-republican accusations. (that’s a branding problem that will probably never be lost) a lot of them revolve around “my job is in the arts and i want more money.”

    i get it, but it’s still shitty to say out loud.

  29. Never been to Quebec, I see.

    I’m not insulting Quebec, I’m insulting whoever created Cirque.

  30. Husband: We’re mired in debt, honey. We have to borrow money every month just to make the house and car payments.

    Wife: Let’s hire a music teacher for the kids.

    Husband: Good idea. The Joneses down the street are going broke too, and they have a music teacher.

  31. Does a culture minister tell people how to dress when they riot over job security issues?

    HA!

    I’m not insulting Quebec, I’m insulting whoever created Cirque.

    Hey… wait just a minute. There’s no reason to be cheap; you can certainly insult both.

  32. This is really dumbass idea – but the more I think about the more I like it – for it’s dumbassedness of course.

    I wish nominate Tom Waits or maybe those guys who created GTA.

  33. Are we still libeling H. Walker Royall? If so, I hear he likes Cirque du Soleil.

  34. I’ll second that GTA nomination – I believe the company that makes it is Rockstar games. It was certainly more entertaining than whatever John Updike’s last novel was.

  35. Husband: We’re mired in debt, honey. We have to borrow money every month just to make the house and car payments.

    Wife: Let’s hire a music teacher for the kids.

    Husband: Good idea. The Joneses down the street are going broke too, and they have a music teacher.

    No, remember that eceonomics works differently for governments. Trust Krugman on that.

  36. Can’t wait to tell my artist friends about this proposal – pretty sure they’ll also find it appalling.

    Make sure to let them know that MiniCult’s main function will be writing checks to artists. See if that changes their thinking.

  37. How about a culture czar with a one year term picked from whoever directed the highest grossing movie or authored the best selling fiction book (if the book outsold any movie) the year before?
    Christopher Nolan for culture czar in 2009. Why so serious, indeed.

  38. Are we still libeling H. Walker Royall? If so, I hear he likes Cirque du Soleil.

    You know who likes Cirque? LoneButthole. No Mexicans, you see.

  39. I wish nominate Tom Waits or maybe those guys who created GTA.

    I nominate Joey Ramone. Yes, I know he’s dead.

    You know who likes Cirque? LoneButthole. No Mexicans, you see.

    How’s he going to be sure? They speak furrin, and furrin’s furrin.

  40. Make sure to let them know that MiniCult’s main function will be writing checks to artists. See if that changes their thinking.

    They said valid art, right?

    Hmmm….I guess we’ll see who are the sellouts and who will still fly their freak flags.

    Me, I’m tuning up my guitar and playing America the Beautiful. Check please.

  41. Don’t have the figures, don’t even know if they have ever been compiled.

    But,

    I’ll bet the U.S. exports more “art” than the entire E.U. Maybe that’s because we don’t have a culture czar.

  42. ‘in Canada, films featuring teenage lesbians in all girls boarding school are boring and can’t turn a profit even when they get released on DVD…’

    That shows that there are even fewer libertarians in Canada than in the U.S. Studies show that for every 5% growth in a country’s libertarian population, the profits of the porn industry go up 15%.

  43. I’ll bet the U.S. exports more “art” than the entire E.U. Maybe that’s because we don’t have a culture czar.

    Ding!

    And that’s why France has a ministry of culture: To keep French culture French, and American culture out.

  44. Lets do it. While we’re at it, lets appoint a Czar Czar. Someone that can tell us what other cabinet positions need to be created. I mean, Obama is ONLY one man(he may be the messiah, but there are only so many hours in the day), how can we expect him to create EVERY cabinet position that we desperately need?

  45. Yep we wouldn’t have culture if the government did not enforce it.

  46. “That shows that there are even fewer libertarians in Canada than in the U.S. Studies show that for every 5% growth in a country’s libertarian population, the profits of the porn industry go up 15%.”

    california has a lot of libertarians?

  47. Think about it. I’m not joking. In Canada, a film with the title, Young People Fucking could not get made without government funding.

    @ Mad Max: Natheniel Branden and Barbara Branden both came from Canada – carrying on an affair with Ayn Rand is about as Libertarian as it gets.

  48. I love the two women callers who are in favor of a Culture Czar until people who don’t likely share their tastes run it, i.e. conservatives. They are so blissfully conceited in the idea that what they considers “art” is objectively better than what those ignoramuses call art.

    None of the people arguing for this position gives much definition to what a Culture Czar would actually do beyond some airy notions of promoting awareness of art. Some of what they seem to mean would duplicate the Sec of Education and the education bureaucracies of the states who are actually running education.

  49. My current job involves building design for local public schools. Every school I’ve worked on has at least one Media Center (Library), Arts Lab, and Music Classroom. I suppose the schools must build them and not actually use them.

  50. california has a lot of libertarians?

    Wipes right hand, then raises it.

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