Occasionally, a gifted person strays from the field in which he excels in order to dabble in something for which he has far less aptitude. Take Albert Einstein, a scientific colossus but an international-relations mushbrain. Or Michael Jordan, probably the best basketball player ever but a baseball bust.
Perhaps nowhere is this principle more in evidence than in the entertainment world. Have you noticed how frequently those with performing-arts talent grace us with at best ill-informed and normally just plain asinine political statements?
-Not long after the Supreme Court upheld a decency test for federal arts grants - a commonsensical no-brainer if ever there was one - some of America's leading dramatists went fatuously ballistic in a July 2 New York Times piece by Mel Gussow.
The bronze medal in this Theatrical Nonsense competition goes to Mac Wellman. Who? According to Gussow, he's "one of the most politically minded of American playwrights," which statement will make you wonder about the lesser politically minded playwrights. Wellman opined, "This... is a victory for those who want to control freedom of expression for their own ends? It's a political decision masking as one concerned with obscenity, [but] what it is really about is marginalizing opinions that are different." Had Gussow substituted "stupid" for "minded" in his description of Wellman, he would have hit the bullseye.
Arthur Miller ("Death of a Salesman") wins the silver: "Certain kinds of art will always be called indecent, and they need support." (Why?) Then, alluding to Karen Finley, one of the "artists" covered in the Court's ruling, who routinely appears onstage wearing nothing but a coating of chocolate, Miller added, "Anyone who smears herself with chocolate needs all the support she can get. If she covered herself in vanilla, they might not have been so outraged." (What?)
And our gold medalist is David Rabe ("Hurlyburly"), who declared the ruling another "manifestation of a fundamental hatred of art, of anything that does not coddle the public... To suggest that things should rise and fall on the marketplace is a form of censorship." (Huh?)
-Comedian Dennis Miller, who called himself a "conservative libertarian" in a 1996 interview, has demonstrated again that he hasn't a clue about the meaning of either term.
However Miller identifies himself, his strongest invective is always aimed at the right. After the Republicans took Congress in 1994, his attacks on Newt Gingrich were breathtakingly vicious. Even though Gingrich isn't the inviting target he was a couple of years ago, Miller isn't short of conservative whipping boys. Discussing Trent Lott's remarks on homosexuality on the June 19 edition of his weekly HBO half-hour, "Dennis Miller Live," he snarled, "Maybe we shouldn't come down on Trent just because he believes the only thing a man should have up his [rear end] is his own head," and labeled him a "stiff-haired, pinhead scumbag."
OK, maybe Miller's not a social conservative. Maybe he's a true-blue, albeit nasty and foul-mouthed, libertarian. But listen to something else he said on the very same episode: "When it comes to paranoia, most folks [are more concerned with] the federal government... but I'm made more paranoid by corporations. Car companies that lie about their safety records; chemical firms selling toxic weed killers that wind up in our food... Let's face it, the idiots in Washington, D.C. can't even investigate a conspiracy, much less create one."
This professed libertarian who fears the private sector more than the public sector is a walking contradiction in terms, and Miller would do well to remove himself from the political conversation in order to spend some quality time, say, learning. He might discover that totalitarian countries such as the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, China, and Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge have caused the deaths of countless millions, a record that couldn't be matched or even approached by big business in Hollywood's wildest fantasies.
On July 10th, Miller went after Rush Limbaugh, whose show, he claims, "barely educates [and] reinforces the narrow-minded prejudices of both the host and the listener." Unlike, we are meant to gather, "Dennis Miller Live."
And then there's Sinead O'Connor, the cantankerous crooner who lost whatever fan support she had when she insulted Catholics everywhere in 1992 by ripping apart, on "Saturday Night Live," a photograph of Pope John Paul II. (The next week, "SNL" guest host Joe Pesci expressed his outrage over O'Connor's act and held up the photo, taped back together.) Six years later, is O'Connor humbled? "I can say about the Pope thing," she told Spin magazine in its August issue, "I'm very proud of that and I stand by it and I would do it again." Some ignorance, I guess, is truly invincible.