The Case for Public Arts

All you assholes talking shit about how we need to take ‘Merica back to the 50s don’t seem to understand anything about America. Or the 50s. And you sure don’t seem to want to be forced back to the understanding that during the postwar height of the mid-20th Century, mass media delivered art to you like never before.

See, had you listened to Little Orphan Annie or other serial programming; or opted instead for something more Mayberry-ish, you would have understood one basic concept: art allows you to learn stuff without having to learn it.

But yes, I know, “reading is for faggots”; “the only letters I need are U, S, and A”; and whatever other backwards-assed ignorant nonsense you claim to be proud of. Because being dumb is the new smart – or, No one can tell me anything that I don’t need to figure out on my own.

Cue the Isaac Asimov anti-intellectualism quote.

Had we listened to Mr. Rogers ( that’s Fred, not Kenny to you gamblers out there), we may have all learned a valuable lesson: public subsidy of the arts has a massive return on investment, in the form of creating bright, engaged community members.

Write that down. You may use a crayon.

I’ll spell it out for you, since this is writing and that’s what writing is (the spelling out of shit): Public subsidy of arts is important to the national character.

When we bring arts into people’s homes for their leisure time, it allows them to learn in a way that doesn’t feel like learning. It’s the passive accumulation of knowledge and perspective vis-a-vis print media, radio, the television, or the Internet.

It can be traced to things like Mr. Rogers’ “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” where the sweater vest-wearing kindly older gentlemen expressed deep-seated empathy toward learning about other people. It didn’t matter if they were similar to him or not, by virtue of them being near him, they got to be something considered “Neighbor.” Now, to all of you who’ve forgotten the faces of your father (or your neighbor), turn off your digital devices now and go outside. I can guarantee you that the pain of being outside will only last so long. You don’t have to welcome any new neighbors you find into your house, but you can give them a kind word and remind yourselves that they are exactly like you – they must breathe, eat, drink, work, and fight for their right to chase after the American Dream.

What’s the word for that? Oh yeah, Neighbor. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” and the other lessons taught to us through the public arts like Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, or any other public programming, matters now more than ever because it allows people to see – distinctly and unequivocally – into the perspectives of people who might be a little different than them. And that those differences are generally so minute as to mean nothing in the grand scheme of things.

But then, if you were actually united – in neighborhoods, in communities, in states and across the nation – then the politicians couldn’t divide you so easily. They couldn’t serve up the #FAKENEWS snake oil of the day to grind out your 2-Minute Hate.

See, public subsidy of the arts doesn’t just provide people with useful information on culture and current events, it provides them with a commitment to be better neighbors, better community members and the like.

Of course, I’m not talking about you. You’re the best, of course. It’s all those other people that I’m referring to… /eyeroll.

Public subsidy of the arts also expands our personal viewshed by giving us the ability to see into worlds that are geographically, politically or culturally separated from us, and allow us to have, at the very least, somewhat of an understanding of them.


Mr. Rogers, testifying before the U.S. Senate, back when those sons-a-bitches still bothered to listen to the people who put their time and reputation on the line to set things straight. Here, Rogers expands a U.S. Senator’s personal viewshed by providing him with direct perspective on how public programming helps teach children. The Horror.

Public arts also have the built-in tendency to provide people with exposure to culture of their country that they didn’t know was theirs. It’s a feature, not a bug.

See, people don’t ever really stop learning. I mean, we can all think of some people who say they don’t need to learn nothing because they’ve already lived it all… but we know these people for who they are: ignorant.

From the time we’re born, we don’t stop learning. There’s this weird thing that happens to us as we age that makes us feel different about that, though. Researchers have found that time seems to speed up as we age. Now, time isn’t really going faster. It’s that our perception of time has a tendency to speed up because as you age you also have a tendency to do things over and over again.

When you do something for the first, second or third time, it registers more with you, with your brain and maybe even your heart, because you’re taking in the details of it all for the first few times. After a while, however, when you do things over-and-over-and-over again, ad nauseum, your brain shuts off because it’s done this particular task, or seen this movie, or heard this song, or had this conversation, etc., too many times for it to register as new. When those experiences begin to pile up, what you end up experiencing is the notion that time is going faster.

busywork

Hmmmm, where did my week go? Oh, it went back and forth in this pile of busy work that my brain refused to register, so time appeared to pass by more quickly in the aggregate. Fuck.

So, the more time that you spend NOT learning things – either actively or passively – the more time your brain just registers the “same-old, same-old” and basically fast-forwards your day, and your week, and suddenly you’re an old person who doesn’t know where all the time went?

I do, it went into that hole you were forced to dig, and fill, and dig, and fill.

But, if you spend more time learning (and this is something the public arts is brilliant at), then what you’re doing is figuratively extending your own lifespan because you’re literally expanding the amount of knowledge and perspective you possess, and therefore are increasing the amount of time your brain is actively “On.”

Wow, you just learned something, and you thought this was going to be just another fucking rant by old Publius.

Well, it still was, so “fututus et mori in igni.” If you want to know what that means, you’re in for some more learning. But it’s all good, since it’s swearing in a foreign language. Trust me, the Internet wouldn’t lie to you, especially not in Latin, right?

Long story short, all those people who are wishing for a return to the Golden Age of ‘Merica didn’t really pay attention while it was going on. What they can do (because they ain’t got no fuckin’ time machine), is to embrace learning about how the time actually was, and maybe learn a little about the arts today via Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

You may be surprised at what you come away with.

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